Tag Archives: time management

Billable Hours-Faculty Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easy Come, Easy Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer Slam!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Faculty Interrupted

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Hi there! Long time no write….I wish I had a better set of excuses but sadly, I don’t. I guess the quote is true, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I made plans and then life happened.

Let’s see…since four months ago…..

  • another semester
  • a few more grants
  • promotion (yay!)
  • development trip to West Africa
  • holiday (that I spent in West Africa)
  • new semester
  • new class
  • new opportunities
  • adapt and change

Opportunity has been knocking and I’ve been answering. Probably more than I should but I’ve been answering nonetheless. Some great things have happened, the highlight is the promotion. After a semester of negotiating and working with my department head, it finally happened right before the end of the semester. I was and am elated. Being promoted from a contingent research faculty to a more permanent faculty member has been a goal for two years. The biggest difference to me is that I don’t worry every day about being a contingent faculty member. The stability alone was worth every ounce of effort the past few years. While it was always part of the ‘master plan,’ it was certainly not a guarantee and I find myself with more time to worry about doing my job instead of if I’ll have a job. Big difference.

I said “yes” to another development trip and left the day after Christmas for West Africa, returning the day the new semester began. Nothing like the last minute. The work was similar and very different to my trip to Nepal last year. I was teaching agribusiness curriculum and capacity building to college faculty to expand their programming to a masters level program. The country was painfully beautiful in so many ways and the work was hard and easy all at the same time. These are not vacations, these are hard work. The conditions alone sometimes seem impossible to many westerners and adapting to the situations is key. I have to hand it to my squad stateside and abroad for this one. I said “yes” on a shorter time frame, was asked to produce more curriculum before I left, and cut the holiday short with my family and friends at home. They always have my back and take good care of me. I even had a “why didn’t you pay us to live in your house?” moment while gone and a friend took the wheel and helped me manage my business after an online payment fail. It takes a village to keep me on the straight and narrow for sure.

Returning the day the semester began was really great and really terrible all at the same time. Besides exhaustion, I felt behind the game for almost two weeks. I did everything I could before I left and while in country, but if there’s no current, no internet, and no water-you don’t get much else done in a day in the US (maybe the water isn’t a big deal to class prep, but the other two are more important).

So, here we are. Halfway through the spring term. I’m teaching a new course, developing another, working on my scholarship, my pubs, and it’s grant season for me. As my position evolves, so does my place of work. A new funding model, new classifications of faculty, and other changes keep us all on our toes and adapting.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

I’ll ry not to go four more months between posts. But I make zero promises ;~)

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I’ve Met Mr. Magoo

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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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30 Minutes a Day

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Writing. Your best friend. The bane of your existence. The bread and butter of an academic. Seeing your name published is rewarding but mandatory if you want to play in the game, dance with the devil, whatever crappy figure of speech you’d like to insert.

After getting almost nothing from a grad student after a summer worth of payment, I had to tackle a manuscript and go it alone. (that issue is a ball of wax that i melted in a prior post) Filled with vitriol, caffeine, and fortitude, I opened the file and got reacquainted with my writing. I had set it aside to give the student ample time to write on it and had given myself the deadline of a trip to get the draft drafted and passed off. A month later and with sparse additions from said student, I ripped it open like a bandaid from my skin and took the nestea plunge.

Since no one eats an elephant in one sitting, I knew I wasn’t going to bang the rest of this out in one sitting either. I then consulted my calendar, said several curse words, and decided that the weekly email I get from the¬†National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity was correct and that 30 minutes a day was a lot more manageable than the 83 hours it was going to take to get this one out into a journal’s hands. I’m no dummy at this point and I’m aware that I will not and cannot sit down and write on something for hours at a time.

Employing the 30 minutes a day has worked. REALLY WORKED. I’ve been able to do it the first few weeks of the semester almost every day with the exception of weekends and the weekend I dipped out early to go see my sister for my birthday. I can be taught and I do listen most of the time. Here’s what I’ve done, maybe it will work for you too:

  • picked the morning, morning works for me cognitively. if i can’t do it in the morning, i do it before i leave. it’s like my exit card.
  • closed the door or eliminated distractions. we’re a friendly group, but a closed door means “try not to disturb.”
  • left a printed copy of the manuscript on my desk, front and center to remind me
  • keep a log on my desk so i can track it, the reward is worth it of being able to write it down (screen shot below)
  • selected a piece to work on each day, a chunk, not the whole thing
  • weekly email check in’s with a virtual writing group

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I made my planner in a word doc, but it was after going to an Anthropologie store and seeing one that was put together neatly, coveting it, but not wanting to spend $18 on it. My colleague was with me as we were traveling for work, and she purchased one. I came home and made my own, printed and stapled together. It sits on my desk in a booklet, much like the one from Anthro, but not quite as pretty. It serves as an excellent reminder to write each day.

There are days when I do go over 30 minutes. But if my schedule is tight, I know I can spare 30 easily and will often leave a note in the printed out copy of the manuscript of where I want to pick up the next day.

Thirty minutes a day. I can do almost anything for that amount of time including writing. If your strategy isn’t working, maybe give it a try?

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Asking Questions to Manage Expectations

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Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.

 

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Saying No to Sunday

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Summer isn’t that long for us nerds. Once you get through with conference travel (yes, fun but also work), service for on-campus events, and the sheer amount of administrivia that comes with the end of the FY, summer is boiled down pretty quickly. Summer is a great time for us to read, write, think, and have the time to actuall do both things without constant interruption. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been taking full advantage of the time to take care of several life tasks to keep my adulting game going strong, but I keep pretty regular hours during the summer too.

One habit I try hard to NOT engage with is working on the weekends in the summer. We had a large grant due recently and my writing team wasn’t planning ahead, leaving much of it until the last minute. The Friday before it was due, the PI said to me, “want to work on this on Sunday?”

“No. I don’t work on Sunday’s in the summer.”

I caught the guy off guard. He replied, “Oh!” pretty surprised and his face widened out at my response.

“It’s the one rule I try and give myself in the summer. I’ll be on the grid first thing Monday morning to finish this up.”

“Well, alright, good for you,” he rebounded.

Why bother telling you about this? Because BOUNDARIES. It’s the only thing I try to NOT do during the summer and here I stood, being asked to do it. Dang it! New faculty me three years ago would have been all, “ok, but just for a couple hours” but New faculty me in the present gave it a “hell no, I won’t go” as quickly as I could. Yes, I considered it, but then realized we had several days to get this together, not mere hours.

I enjoyed my Sunday-went paddle boarding and enjoyed my day in general.I was pretty proud of myself and quite content with what I did instead of running to campus. My friends/family were also properly happy for me-saying no is hard for me. Whether it’s because I’m a female, a minority, a young faculty member, or I just have a hard time saying no, follow my example, follow Nancy Reagan, and “just say no.”

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Steamrolling Into Summer

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source: I took this, that’s Henry!

I feel like I’ve barrel rolled right into summer. In case you’re wondering, it was a very clean barrel roll with no big rocks on the path. I don’t know how it happened but I thought I just got back from overseas….¬†A quick trip home helped my mental state but it added up and the driving alone was a pain in my ass (really, my lower back was screaming). A quick trip to the chiropractor straightened me right out (pun totally intended)!

Alas, graduation and the pomp and circumstance (pun intended again) that goes with it is in full force. Taking advantage of the time to not be on campus, I started to pretend an adult lives at my house who cleans things. The the ritualistic nature of stripping the covers off of the couch cushions, the shame and pride of vacuuming a semesters worth of crumbs out of the couch, and the nice smell that the febreze has when I deodorize the couch and love seat is my internal trigger that the seasons have changed and so has the semester.

There’s other things that trigger the changing of my academic seasons. Move out will and has taken full force, summer happy hour emails have been sent for standing invites with friends, and conference season kicks off in just over 48 hours. Why enjoy that first week of summer when you can get on a plane and hit up your first conference? Relaxing is for quitters…..

We don’t realize what a frenetic rush we put on ourselves as young faculty members. I had not been sleeping well since coming back from overseas and while I could only use the excuse of jet lag for so long, there were so many things to take care of. This coupled with taking a month off to go abroad, on top of whatever else I’ve been up to made sound sleep this elusive thing I chased. I even hung some Tibetan prayer flags over the bed hoping it would catch some good prayers and they’d turn into good dreams or good sleep. It took the internal ‘click’ of the semester for me to sleep like a log for the first time in weeks for a solid 8.5 hours before I stirred and heard Henry moving in his crate to let me know it was time to get up and play.

USDA grant season has slowed, I’ve got a NSF due next week, a NIH in June, and another one (can’t remember the acronym) in early August. I feel like I have one more but honestly, I can’t remember…My pubs for the calendar year are published-looking shiny and real and I am already scheming of what to push out for 2017. I have plans to push out two more this summer for hopeful publication next year. Gotta keep the wheels turning right?

I have blocked out my summer calendar now that summer projects have been decided on and blocked out travel. Two conferences, a week in CO, and then home to the farm. In between, I have plans to read, write, evaluate, work on grants that are currently funded, work with undergrad and grad students that have been hired, and heck-NOT work weekends, evenings, or before a normal time of day (normal is defined as “when the sun gets out of bed”).

All the pre-planning is letting me do one very important thing: it’s giving me permission to slow down. Blocking out the time gives me space to think, write, and read. I ordered 14 books the other day so I better have some time to read (and yes, they’re all for work). Slowing down in summer doesn’t mean productivity lags, it means I actually have time and give myself permission to do the things I can’t afford to do when there’s a room full of students, a pile of things to read, and researchers all staring at me for answers. The grant work alone I’ve neglected is enough to fill several weeks.

August will be here soon enough, but today, May whatever it is, I’m going to slow down. Downshift my internal engine, sleep through the night without interruption, and work through the massive pile of books that will be delivered when I get back from my conference. Now that the couch is clean and my house looks like a living, breathing human who doesn’t hoard a pile of shoes somewhere near the door lives here, I can steam roll right into summer.

 

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It Takes a Village, Spring Break Edition

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Greetings from Spring Break!

I’d like to say I was posting this from a beach, a couch, or an otherwise sunny location but here I am, in my favorite coffee shop where I got a big table since the students are all gone. Winning!

I’m grinding on my to-do list hard this week-why? Leaving for three weeks in a few days for work. This plan has not come together with a wave of a magic wand, nor was it an easy process. Traveling internationally to an under-developed country has been a process. Relying on others with more experience than I have and relinquishing¬†control over the details was annoying at first, but is kind of nice now. A magic folder was FedEx’ed to me last week that contained everything I would need and more.

The logistics on a trip of this size and scope have been a team effort. From my department head, my colleagues, grad students on assistantship, to my current grant¬†projects, to the students I’m teaching, to the ten undergrad researchers who look to me each week for guidance, to my friends taking care of my house and life, it’s not been an easy trip to put together. With so many moving parts, I have been forced to ask for lots of help from various people, groups, and the trickle down effect of my absence will affect more than I think.

Am I that important? NO. (check myself before i wreck myself moment)

It’s also¬†USDA grant season and all of the due dates fall while I’m gone. Oops. Getting asked to collaborate on several grants has forced me to get organized and turn all of my materials in early.

There’s also the long list of supplies I was tasked with obtaining before I leave. Enough toiletries for three weeks, ¬†surge protectors/converters, and one magical Amazon list after another have kept me in line. Borrowing a large suitcase and larger backpack for a 24 hour layover in Asia have had me on my toes.

I have to say: I’m lucky that I have a village willing to support me. From my mom sending me links, to my friends coming to water my plants, to my departments support, I would not have been able to do this without my team, my squad, my village. People forget what a gigantic effort this is and the 22 year olds I teach think it’s this glamorous thing we get to do. I have to remind them that it’s anything but glamorous at points and the work pace I’ve been keeping the last month has run me ragged. It’s one consequence I accepted when I said “yes” to the trip and I knew it would be hard to get it all together but I’m glad I’m doing it. I was so over tired the other night I put myself to bed early, turned down dinner plans most of the weekend, and kept myself in hiding knowing I would be terrible company. I couldn’t even muster the energy to hike a few miles, feeling sloppy due to lack of sleep, poor diet, and just general “blah” lately. I know, I know, “woe is me” but you have to know: getting on that plane to Hong Kong will be a sigh of relief because I’ll know that everything is done and if it’s not, it’s too late.

We cannot drop it all and get on the plane. As a young faculty member, we’ve got too many balls in the air to do that. I need to make sure my pubs are getting published while I’m gone, my grants are getting turned in, and my students and researchers are all on point. This takes a crap load of pre-planning, communicating, and a boat load of work on my end. ¬†Yes, international travel is pretty awesome and I’m pretty fortunate for this opportunity, but this has not been one of those easy, breezy things to pull off. Hell, there’s still a few days until I leave and it could all come crashing down. I hope it won’t and it shouldn’t, but shit happens folks.

The number one thing I’ve had going for me: I’ve known about this for a few months and I’ve done nothing but COMMUNICATE that I was leaving. I’ve made no bones about it to anyone I’ve worked with. From our grant officer in the college to the students to the faculty I’m writing grants with, everyone knows I’m leaving and I won’t be available often while I’m gone. Not going to a first world country means I’m not going to have first world Internet access.

The sky will not fall chicken little, not at all. But my bat brain will be so much happier once I get the last few items checked off my list, shove a bunch of crap and three weeks of shampoo into a bag and settle in for the long leg of my flights: 16 hours…yeah, 16 hours. I’m pumped for that too!

 

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