Archive for the ‘Shit Professors Do Other Than Teach and Research’ Category

So today, as with every Tuesday, I was back on campus less than 12 hours after I left it, because I have The Most Awful Schedule Ever for the Third Semester in a Row.  That’s not news.  And yes, most Tuesdays I end with me feeling depleted.

But I’m especially exhausted today because it was the Big Deadline for an internal grant for which I applied.  I also had a couple of other things to apply for internally – one by the end of the week and one by next Monday, so I bit the bullet and completed all three applications (which all required just slightly different information and formats, so it was a total pain in the ass) today.  Depleted doesn’t begin to cover it.

The Big Grant application I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks.  And I’m in no way certain of getting it, even though I was very diligent in formulating the application and making sure I hit all of the items on the rubric that they use to evaluate it.  (Side note: it is SO MUCH BETTER, if more time intensive, now that The Committee that Decides on Internal Grants actually explains what the application requires, what projects can be funded through this grant, and what criteria are used in evaluation.  When I first arrived 10 years ago, there was little to no concrete guidance about what the applications should include, which was… problematic.)  But anyway, even with that diligence and investment of time, why am I unsure about my prospects?  Well, first off, people in The Humanities rarely get this particular award.  I’m not sure if it’s because people don’t apply or if it’s because they don’t understand how to write grant applications or if it’s because there is a gigantic bias against research in the humanities because my colleagues across campus don’t understand it or value it.  Probably some combination of the three.

But I had an idea for the Big Grant (by big I’m just referring to the application in relation to the other stuff I applied for – it will give me personally no actual money, but if I get it then it will pay for some software/work that will buy me time, which would be grand) that I thought I could sell to people outside the humanities, which they would understand as research and not “clerical work” (which let’s note constitutes a lot of what “research” in the humanities involves but no level of explanation seems to penetrate the brains of my colleagues outside of my discipline or the brains of my administration, who value research involving labs and co-authors much more highly than they value the kind of stuff that people in single-author fields do). So I feel like I’ve got a 50/50 shot.  But if I get it, then I will totally write about it here and tell every single colleague who cares in the humanities in my institution about it, because I might have discovered the One True Way to get access to this money.  Maybe.  But it definitely ain’t a sure thing.

And then I submitted another application for professional development money from my College, which I think has a pretty good shot, depending.  Depending on what?  Depending on how many people apply.  Because I got this money last year, and I can imagine them denying me if there were first time applicants in the pool if there were more applicants than there was money.

And then I submitted an application for a course release, which I’m about 99 percent sure I will not receive, mainly because the only reason I was “allowed” to submit the request was because a colleague of mine was told by the provost to submit one, and my chair (kudos to my new chair!) wanted to be equitable and open up the opportunity to others who had expressed interest.  See, my dean has basically said to the chairs (“basically” meaning that all of this has happened not as a policy matter that is in writing but rather as an ad hoc thing he has “told” them and they’ve gone along with since 2010) that course releases for anything other than administrative purposes won’t be considered.  Because, you know, he can’t be bothered to read and to reject applications for release time for other things, I guess.  On the one hand, this is about the budget, and I get it.  On the other hand, how are you going to fight for more money in the budget if you have no clue what faculty are doing and you have no evidence that more resources are needed?  (Note: course releases are available for research in other colleges at my institution).  My dean is “stepping up” to faculty after this academic year (don’t you love that euphemism?).  I’ll let you infer how I feel about that.

So basically I invested about 20 hours of time in composing applications for institutional support for my research, support that would ultimately benefit my institution in a host of ways – student success, getting a woman in my department fully promoted, institutional reputation – and I might end up with nothing for those efforts.  But hey, you can’t get support if you don’t ask for it.  And you can’t bitch legitimately if you don’t get denied the support that you need.

All this work isn’t for nothing, even if none of it works out.  It’s prepared me for external grant applications for next year, and it’s got me started thinking in a systematic way about my THIRD book project (even though I’m not done with the second one).  This is all good.  And it’s also good to do these things because it makes me recognize the quality of my ideas and the high esteem in which my work is regarded outside of my institution, mainly because such applications require you to self-promote.

That said?  I am exceptionally pleased that I don’t need to write anything for a while that waxes poetic about how important I am.  I hate this fucking genre, though apparently I’ve gotten a hell of a lot better at doing it in the 10 years I’ve been on the tenure-track.  And I’m feeling satisfied, because even if I don’t get diddly from all of this effort, at least I know that I’ve communicated what I am doing and the value of what I am doing without apology.  I’d rather dare them to say no than anticipate rejection and fail to try.

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My name is Dr. Crazy, and I have never recommended an article for publication.  One time, I suggested that a revise and resubmit was appropriate.  That felt pretty good.  But just the once.

In every other case, in the eight or 9 years that I’ve been serving as a reader for a handful of journals, of greater and lesser prestige and selectivity, I have said that the articles that I have read are not acceptable for publication.

And honestly, that really hurts my feelings.  I fantasize about the day when I get an article that I recommend to accept without changes, or to accept with only minor revisions.  You think (or at least I thought) that when you finally get the chance to serve as a peer reviewer that it will be this exciting experience wherein you discover the next new most awesome ideas in your field, and you get to support them.  But yeah, so far, not so much.  And according to my Fb friends, they have similar experiences to report.

So, I’m writing this post as a public service for grad students or very junior people in literary studies (YMMV if you’re in another discipline, though I suspect this explanation might be quite appropriate in other humanities fields, especially, too) in order to offer some advice.  Because it strikes me that when one first tries to publish, one really doesn’t have much idea of what a “publishable” piece actually is.

[Aside: I was VERY lucky as a grad student for two reasons: 1) my dissertation director, as well as some other profs in the program, commented on our seminar papers in “reader’s report” form, which felt like abuse at the time, but when I finally got my first reader’s reports back on stuff I submitted, it was totally clear to me that I had been trained to deal with that kind of criticism as well as to anticipate it; 2) for my first two publications, both completed in grad school and that appeared in edited collections, I had very generous editors who really worked with me to get my work to publishable standards and really explained the “why” behind what they were asking for.  I know that everyone doesn’t have the benefit of these things – not even everybody in my own PhD program did, depending on the professors with whom they worked.]

First, what an article is not:

1.  A seminar paper that you wrote for a graduate course is not an article.  Not even if you got an “A” on it.  (All an “A” means is that it was a very good seminar paper, excellent student work.) Not even if your professor said that the paper has “potential” to be published and you should think about submitting it someplace.  (Implicit in that piece of encouragement is that you will revise the seminar paper to turn it into a journal article.  It’s not ready, as is.)

2.  A dissertation chapter is not an article.  First off, dissertation chapters in my experience typically run longer than article-length.  Even if you tend to have “shortish” (like 30-40 pages) chapters, as I myself did.  Secondly, they typically involve a lot of “lit review” that “proves” you read a bunch of stuff, but which is extraneous to a tightly woven argument to be presented to an audience of experts.  Third, if your dissertation is anything like mine, you might be picking fights with some critics, or dismissing out of hand the work of some critics, or uncritically praising the work of some critics, who are your potential reviewers, or the very good friends or very respected enemies of your potential reviewers.  (The pool of people who work in any given subfield is very, very small: you need to be judicious and generous-without-being-fawning in your engagement with criticism, and judiciousness is often not a feature of the dissertation-writing process.)  Fourth, no, you can’t just cut out the lit review and think because what you’re submitting is 25-30 pages that it is an article.

3.  A conference paper is not an article.  Not even if you’re submitting it to a very small journal that expects you to turn in something at around 2K words.  Something intended to be read aloud to an audience is not dense enough or polished enough to appear without revision in published form.  And certainly not if you’re submitting it to a journal that publishes stuff that falls in the 7K-words range.  No, you can’t just “add to it.”  A conference paper may be a skeleton of an article, or a piece of an article, or an idea for an article.  But it’s not, indeed, an article.

Ok, but so then what does an actually publishable article involve?

1.  Every article needs a clear, concise, precise thesis statement.  An argument, if you will.  And every piece of the body of that article should support and advance that argument, and the argument should develop and build through the accretion of evidence (primary – the literary text(s) -as well as secondary – theoretical, biographical, and/or critical material) and your analysis.  If you are using sub-headings in lieu of actual transitions?  You likely aren’t doing this.  (Note: I’m not saying sub-headings are “wrong.”  I’m just saying that if they are a substitute for strong transitions from one idea to the next, you’ve got a problem.)

2.  Your argument should actually be original.  Not just original to you. (That’s student work, and fine as far as it goes, but it’s not scholarship.)  Here’s what I mean when I say this.  When I was an undergraduate, I did my honors thesis on Virginia Woolf and her androgynous aesthetic.  Now, what I had to say was like totally original to me.  But was I making an original contribution to the scholarly conversation on Virginia Woolf, and taking that conversation to a new place?  NO!  I WASN’T!  What I was thinking about was “new to me,” and I learned how to write in a more advanced way by doing that project, but it was NOT scholarship!  If you are “cherry-picking” quotes that “agree” with your argument, or that “disagree” with your argument, but you’re not deeply reading the body of the criticism and really thinking about it?  You’re likely in trouble.  Original scholarship is often ambivalent in relation to the body of criticism – it’s not Yes! or No!

3.  You should be able to show where your original ideas came from.  How do you build on, complicate, reject, or enhance the existing body of criticism?  What are the foundations of your ideas, and how do you grow out of those foundations? How do you grow away from them? How does your close reading of the literary text(s) substantiate what you have to say about the scholarly conversation?  As I tell my students, writing good literary criticism actually has a lot in common with doing geometry.  It’s not enough to present a “right answer” – you’ve got to demonstrate the “proof” – you’ve got to “show your work.”  Put another way, you need to articulate your thought process, and in doing so, persuade your reader that what you’re thinking is worthwhile, even if they disagree with your approach.

And what would you be best advised to avoid?

1.  Avoid submitting essays in which you substitute quotations for your own ideas.  Don’t create a collage in which other scholars, or, indeed, even Esteemed Great Writers of Literature, speak for you.  And, no, it does not make a difference if you italicize phrases to “add emphasis.”

2.  Avoid submitting sloppy work.  Parallel construction of sentences matters.  Punctuation matters.  Citation style matters.  Proofreading and spelling matter.  And in this age of computers?  If you have sentence-level problems like this I just think that you are lazy.  No, I will not read past consistent errors with these things when I am reviewing for a journal to see your undying brilliance.  I’ll think you’re an asshole who is wasting everybody’s time.  Nobody is brilliant enough for this not to be irritating.  It’s also worth noting: in non-blind-review situations, one sometimes gets stuff like this from Eminent Folks.  It’s still fucking maddening, though one puts up with it because the person is Eminent.  But if you’re not Eminent?  Seriously, let the article sit a few days and then do some editing.  [Confession: I know I submitted something like this (sloppy citations, baggy writing) in December that I am sure was maddening for my editors of an essay collection that I was “invited” (compelled, as a favor, and while I would never describe myself as eminent, I have earned the right to fuck up periodically at this point) to submit to.  It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t up to my usual standards, and I actually felt badly about it, but given the timing and that I hadn’t intended to write anything for this particular thing originally, I cut myself what felt like necessary slack at the time.  The point is, though, I knew it was shitty even as I hit “send.”  And when I revised the piece for the editors, I made damned sure that I didn’t pull the same shit again.  I suppose this is one of the privileges of being “invited” to submit to something, and having the reputation to make that invitation worth it for the people putting the thing together, but what I did still sucks, and I want to note that I know it sucks and that I’m sorry for it.)

3.  Avoid submitting to inappropriate journals.  Seriously, do your homework.  Just because you’re writing on a “novel” don’t think that your article is necessarily appropriate for the journal, “Novel: A Forum on Fiction” (a VERY selective journal).  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim high, but you should also be realistic about the quality of your work, the orientation of your work in relation to what the journal typically publishes, and the audience for whom that work would be interesting and significant.  The article that I read today was for Fancy Journal (Comparatively) Related to Single Author (not the smaller “newsletter” style journal for that author).  One of the major problems with that article was that it didn’t seem to realize that the only people who read that journal regularly are all experts on that author, who all have all the most famous passages of Single Author’s writing (not just the fiction, but also the diaries, letters, and all published materials) pretty much memorized, and they also have read ALL of the scholarship on Single Author.  Submitting your work to the appropriate journal, and with that journal’s typical audience in mind, makes a HUGE difference.  Here’s a tip: if you never cite anything from the journal you’re thinking about submitting your essay to in your essay?  DON’T SUBMIT THERE.  If YOU are not their audience, why would their readers be the audience for your work? Here’s another tip: if you’re thinking about submitting to the Fanciest Journal in Your Field, from which you cite articles consistently in your own work but which you know only has like an 8% acceptance rate, expect to revise and to submit it to a lower tier journal next.  (And if you don’t know how to figure out the typical acceptance rate of the journals to which you submit, you need to figure that out before you submit anyplace – hint, the MLA publishes this info.) The best case scenario typically if you submit to one of the Top Journals is that if your work is good, you’ll get great readers’ reports to work from for your revision for a less selective venue, so it’s not a waste of your time or theirs, even if rejection is your fate.  But rejection will likely be your fate, and you should know that.

And finally:

1.  Most of the people I know take their responsibilities as peer reviewers really seriously and they do their best to offer constructive comments for revision, even if they recommend rejection.  They don’t JUST say, “this is a piece of shit.”

2.  In submitting articles, even those that have been rejected, I would say that 95% of the time I received constructive comments that only made the article that I submitted better.  Even if I felt on first reading that the comments indicated, “this is a piece of shit.”  And yeah, sometimes I resist some of the comments, but I provide my rationale, and that has always been ok.  Or I address a comment that I think is not central in a note, but it doesn’t HURT anything for me to do that, and it makes the reviewer happy.  The point is, getting a work to publication is collaborative.  And taking the criticism you get never (in my experience) makes the essay worse.

3.  If you’re doing conscientious, non-sloppy, original work, you really will get feedback that improves not only your writing but also your ideas, and a lot of times you’ll end up with a publication.  Nobody is out to get you.  As I often say to my students, when they get all paranoid that a certain professor (other than me, or even me) is out to get them: “I promise you they have other things that they are much more worried about than you.  They are not staying up at night because of your crappy paper. ”  Nobody who is serving as a peer reviewer is staying up at night because of your crappy article.  I promise you.  But they will be over the moon if you write an article that they can recommend for publication.  Seriously, that is a rare and wonderful thing.


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Let me preface this post with the acknowledgment that there are very good reasons why I don’t rule the world, and why I should never be allowed to rule the world, which mainly have to do with my lack of patience, my tendency to be bossy and condescending, and my habit of not knowing precisely when I should shut up – or of knowing that I should shut up and saying more anyway.

But so anyway, if I ruled the world, here would be some rules that I would institute:

1) No meetings will exceed 60 minutes. EVER.

2) The moment that you propose something at a meeting that reveals you didn’t do your homework?  That moment of revelation is the moment that you are forcibly silenced, and you can only continue to speak once you have done the necessary homework. (In other words, maybe – MAYBE – during the next meeting.)

3) No item on the agenda should take more than 15 minutes.  Most items should take less than 7 minutes.

4) Voting items should precede discussion items; items that might someday come to a vote should precede items that will never get their shit together to be votable.

5) The point of a meeting is not to “discuss” – it is to “propose” and to “decide.”  If what you want is discussion, go fucking talk to your colleagues when it’s convenient for you and for them.  And then come up with something concrete to propose, and we’ll talk about that at one meeting, and then after we’ve done that, we’ll decide on it at the next one.  Stop fucking wasting my time with ideas that you haven’t fully formulated.  Seriously: that is not the point of a meeting of the whole department.

As you can tell from these five points, I really can’t rule the world. Lots of people would feel that I am a fascist.  But that said?  Wouldn’t you all like it better if I did rule the world?  I mean, seriously!

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I know, I know.  I said you could expect a real post last week, but then Life Got in the Way.


First, The Dude and I had to have our first actual both-of-us-were-totally-pissed-off-at-each-other fight on Valentine’s eve, which also happened to be like two days before the three month mark of us being together.  Those two things combined might send any pair into a tailspin, I’d say.  Very high pressure.  The specifics aren’t really important – other than that the conflict did reveal some important things (about him to me: when in doubt, The Dude will try to minimize something that he knows is going to upset me, and his first impulse is to “keep me happy” as opposed to dealing with an issue head on, which I suppose some people might enjoy, but I find it very hard to take; about me to him: if you try to minimize something that is going to upset me, and, indeed, if you reveal that you’re just trying to “keep me happy” like I need to be placated and “handled,” I turn into a fucking lunatic) and it all resulted in a very positive conversation about How We Deal with Things Individually and How That Will Work for Us Together, Feelings, and Things Going Forward, and ultimately we had a lovely Valentine’s date (on Friday, as planned) and it was fun and cool and we saw each other Sunday, too, which was also delightful.  Long story short: all’s well that ends well, and probably we were due for a fight, and this wasn’t so bad, as such things go.  Indeed, I think it’s a good sign that we didn’t break up!  (We both totally thought about it, which is oddly comforting, that we both thought about it but we both didn’t pull the trigger, which might not seem comforting to many of you out there, but he and I both have histories of cutting our losses quickly if things seem to be going south, so the fact that we didn’t in this instance is a Good Thing.)

Second, last week I got a test in one class and papers in three others, plus I’m dying under my reading load this semester, and then between meetings and students (I had 14 individual conferences with students on Thursday alone) and things related to a search in the department and curriculum proposals (for it turns out that now that I’m not responsible for serving on any curriculum committees I have time to initiate changes, since nobody else seems to have the will to do such things) and all other manner of mid-semester business, I barely have a minute to breathe.  To give you a sense of how things are, I woke up this morning with a terrible headache, called in sick, took medicine to make the headache go away, and once it did, I proceeded to use the day to grade, to read (all major reading done for the next two and a half weeks!), and to write assignments, as well as to think about some abstracts I need to write and submit.  Yes, I took a sick day less because I was sick than because I really needed to catch up on work. I don’t think I’ve had to do that since maybe my second or third year on the tenure track.  Would I have done that if I didn’t wake up with the headache?  No.  But today was a day I could afford to miss (none of my classes will be behind because of it), and so I took my chance.  And I’m actually feeling a lot better about everything (and my headache is gone!) for having done so. *
So that’s all the news on this end.  I know, boring.  And I know that this doesn’t actually count as a “real” post, in the sense of writing a post with a “topic” that has like a “thesis statement” and actually addresses some “issue,” but I promise that one of those will come along sometime soon.  It’s just hard to manage posts like that when I’m so overwhelmed with various discrete tasks on my to do list plus the whole trying to have a life thing (not just The Dude – trying to keep up with friends and stuff as well).  Don’t even ask me how actual writing is going.  (It isn’t.)
*I should probably admit that my craziness with work might have contributed to my lunacy last week with The Dude.  But that does not mean that I wasn’t actually pissed off at him for very real things: just that I might have gone a little more crazy than I would have done if I didn’t feel like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders work-wise.  We did talk about that as well, and about what he can do to make such freak-outs in his direction when I’m under a lot of pressure at work less likely in the future.  It’s worth noting that when I told my mom about the argument this weekend, and when I explained what’s going on with me at work, she laughed and expressed how happy she was that he bore the brunt of my stress-induced craziness, since usually she’s the one who sets me off.  She also seems to think that he’s pretty great if he’s able to withstand stressed-out me.

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I began seriously thinking about applying for full professor maybe about 6 months ago.  I think I’ve mentioned that here, outlining why going up matters to me, but in any case I’ve been sure about my reasons for wanting to go up for a good long while, and the short version of those reasons are the following:

  • No women are fully promoted in my department.
  • Promotion to full comes with a nice bump to my base salary (not a million dollars or anything, but nothing to sneeze at when I wonder whether we’ll ever get a raise again, or whether they’ll just periodically do what they did last year, which was to give one-time merit-pay based on base salary).
  • There’s no reason not to go up: if I’m denied, it carries no penalty, and I can go up again in the future if I’m denied.
  • Being fully promoted will give me more clout in conversations about the future of the university/department, and it will give me more autonomy in terms of determining my workload, especially as it pertains to certain kinds of service obligations (though I know some other service obligations will crop up in place of those, the ones that will crop up are more meaningful and often less time-consuming in aggregate).
  • If I go up for full and get it, I won’t need to think about whether I should or shouldn’t apply anymore.

Beyond thinking about those reasons, and thinking in a general way about what I’ve achieved over the past five years, though, I haven’t been very concrete about beginning the process of putting my stuff together.  Because, you know, that would make it “real.”

But I decided I should set up a lunch with a fully promoted mentor, and once I did that, it occurred to me that if this was going to be anything other than a pleasant lunch I needed to come up with some concrete questions about the process.  And that then led me to the faculty handbook.

The horror.

See, since I was pre-tenure, I haven’t really thought so much about the whole “jumping through hoops and documenting them” portion of this profession.  I mean, I’ve been jumping through the hoops, but I haven’t thought about it that way.  It’s the thinking about it that way that makes me Freak Out.

So going through all of the criteria, and all of the possible permutations of evidence that I could compile to demonstrate that I’ve met the criteria, made me Freak Out.

Here’s what I think right now, having forced myself to confront the criteria directly:  I’ve done so much in the past five years, but I’m not quite sure if it’s enough, even if it’s more than a lot of people do.  I’m concerned that the full professor dudes in my department will not support my application, no because anything is “missing” but rather because it’s my impression (though I’m not sure if this is a totally fair impression) that they see their role as a gate-keeping role.  And the faculty handbook, in all its vagueness, and the fact that our department handbook offers little to no additional insight, can allow that interpretation of the role of the fully promoted colleagues who will decide on my application.  And I’m wondering how much campaigning they will expect me to do in order to garner their support.  And, frankly, I’m wondering what they actually expect me to have done.


Two things would make me feel a hell of a lot better – one of which is only partially in my control, and one of which is entirely beyond my control.  1) If I can get the book manuscript finished (the part in my control) and a contract in hand, I’ll feel secure that they can’t deny me on the basis of scholarship.  (A book is NOT technically required, and I can demonstrate my progress toward the completion of the book even now, plus I’ll have published three or four full-length articles by the time I go up, as well as one short article, all peer-reviewed, and a couple of review essays.  I think that shows consistent scholarly engagement, but will that be enough without a contract in hand?) 2) If I get the Big (for the humanities) Teaching Grant that I applied for, then I’ll feel totally secure about the teaching part of things (about which I already should be secure, but for whatever reason, I’m not).  But if not…  yeah, I guess what I’m saying is that I just don’t trust the people who will be evaluating me to recommend my promotion.

But whatever.  I’ve got like 10 months to get myself on solid ground, and I have to believe that I can do that.  And, even if I end up getting denied, ultimately, then I’ll be well on my way to resubmitting the application in a year or two.

Whatever.  I needed to face the actual requirements, no matter how crappy they make me feel.  Better to face them now so that I can do all the things to put forward the best application possible.


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Ends of semesters are different now for me than they were even, say, five years ago.  They are certainly different from what they were like for me as a student.  It used to be that I would get about one month out from the end of the semester, and I would actually get a burst of energy – I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, as they say, and I would be excited about that.  That burst would push me through to the end.  And I would revel in the time during finals week, the sense of being on a scaled back schedule, the sense that things got easier at the end.  (This was even true for me when I was a student, and it was certainly true for me pre-tenure.)

But with increasing responsibilities (Committees, Task Forces, and Working Groups – Oh My!), that light at the end of the tunnel can feel more like a train that’s barreling down the track heading straight for me.  How am I going to get it all done?  Is there really time for another meeting?  If I don’t respond to that email (or 20) until the semester is over, is that going to work, or will everything come crashing down around me because of something overlooked?

It occurs to me that the existential bloggy crisis that motivated my past couple of posts is really deeply connected, more deeply connected than I’ve consciously acknowledged, to how my job has changed since earning tenure and “ascending” to associate professor rank.  (The irony of that terminology makes me giggle, as often, life at the associate professor rank can feel like one is sinking in quicksand.)  Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel “stuck” at associate professor, or “stalled.”  For one thing, I haven’t been at this rank for all that long.  And I am making steady progress to going up for full professor.  But, for me, working as an associate professor really has felt (I believe, upon reflection) like I’m doing a different job from the one I was doing as an assistant professor, and a very different job from the one that I was trained to do in graduate school.  The challenges of that are interesting, and I do feel empowered (though also impatient and frustrated) by the different responsibilities that have come with tenure and promotion.

But regardless of all of the above, it is, indeed, true that semesters do end.  And thank goodness that they do.

I have never felt more ready for a semester to end than I have felt this spring.  For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having dreams about the book I’m supposedly writing – supposedly because there has been no time for writing for a hundred years.  And while I’m happy about some of what I’ve accomplished this semester, I’m also ready to accomplish a lot of things that are impossible to accomplish in the swirl of meetings.

Because, see, it’s the meetings that are the problem. The problem is feeling like I have to fight – constantly – for things that seem obvious to me.  It’s the load of paperwork and politicking.

People act like professors are a bunch of slackers who don’t want to teach.  Look: I teach four courses a semester.  And I don’t hate teaching, and I don’t actually want to teach less.  I want the time to teach the way that I’m capable of teaching – I want time to really reflect on the work that I do as a teacher, to design new assignments, to think about the texts that I teach and to connect those ideas to the ways in which I present those texts to my students.  I want time to do my best by my students.  And that is the thing that is lost in the current structure of higher education, for tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty alike.  For those of us on the tenure-track, we’re so burdened with the work of running the university that teaching gets short shrift, regardless of how many courses per semester we teach.  For those off the tenure-track, they are so burdened with their contingent status (lack of office space, lack of job security, lack of resources to do their jobs well – like computers, photocopying privileges, etc. – and while these issues are tougher for part-timers, they affect full-time non-t-t faculty as well).

I need “summers off” not because I don’t care about teaching, but because I do.  I can’t do my best as a teacher unless I have some time to recharge – to get some energy back after being slammed for 9 months out of the year with crap that has little to nothing directly to do with teaching or research.

And so with that, I need to get myself in the shower, finish cheffing up breakfast for my writing students (fruit salad and strada, in case you’re wondering), and take myself off to my last hideous Tuesday of this semester – indeed, EVER, because I will NEVER agree to this schedule again, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.


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Good Lord, I feel like I’m dying.

The good news is that thinking that, and then thinking of this song, made me think fondly of my dad, for this was a Dad Song, totes.  The bad news is that, dude, I feel like I’m dying.  This week has kicked my motherfucking ass.  Why?

Monday: Scramble to finish 40-minute talk.

Tuesday: Awaken to prep, polish talk, go to campus, meet with students, teach a short class, drive a few hours to give talk, collect self for talk for an hour, give talk and do question-answer, go to (lovely) dinner with colleague who’d invited me, crash.

Wednesday: Awaken, make small talk with B&B owner, drive a few hours, feed Angry Kitties Who Despise Overnight Absences, meet with students, teach for 3 hours.

Thursday: Awaken, meet with students, teach for four hours, contemplate whether this week will kill me or make me stronger.

Today: Awaken, meet with CF for breakfast, to discuss work as well as to just enjoy one another’s company, head to office to grade (primarily) as well as to take care of some other things, meet with another colleague (only to find that we agree on many things I was led to believe we wouldn’t agree on, as well as to wonder why my chair tells me things that aren’t true), meet with a student, go get my hair did (and, yes, I am in love with it – love the short, short hair!  LOVE!  STILL!)

Tomorrow: Awaken, go to campus to give a talk at a symposium thingumbob which, let’s note, even though it’s supposed to be a requirement that we give a talk after sabbatical, I’m the only motherfucking person who’s had a sabbatical who’s bothering (and no, the others haven’t found alternate venues), but since there are no consequences, well, why should they?  Then I really need to polish off the remaining grading so that I can have a (tiny) reprieve in the next two weeks before I get slammed again, as well as to write a rec for a student.

For now, I’m drinking some lovely wine and giving you all an update on my monster of a week.  And catching up with A. and BES and other peeps on the phone.

At any rate, this professing shit is not for the weak or the weary, and I may not be weak, but I’m heading there, and I’m surely weary.

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Ah, that’s better.   I just crossed three things off of my to-do list.  Much better.  (See what I mean about stupid procrastination?  How hard was that?)  But so now that gives me time to write a post I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Since my return from sabbatical, I’ve been struggling with this issue of details.  See, one of the things that I learned during my sabbatical is that I’m terrible with details.  Well, I guess I knew that before, but that time to pause reminded me of this fact about myself.  It’s not that I don’t do the detail-oriented parts of my job – I do! – but I don’t get much satisfaction from those things, and I don’t like doing them.  I like it when they are done.  In my perfect world, somebody else would do those for me.  But I do not live in a perfect world.

Now, this in itself is just a normal job frustration, and doesn’t really matter all that much other than that I want to whine about it.  The problem, as I see it, is that I don’t think certain people who matter really value what I am good at and what I do get satisfaction out of and like, which is Big Picture stuff.  While it is true that Vision is not all, Vision is really, really important.  Without Vision, details are just, well, busy-work.  (And here you see my bias: that I think details are just what you do because otherwise you cannot realize your Grand Vision, whereas more detail-oriented folks would probably argue the opposite – that Grand Visions are all well and good but details are what matters most – the devil is in the details, and all that.)

Here are a couple of examples.

First, the schedule of classes.  On the one hand, this is all about details.  It’s about negotiating the competing demands of students (I need to fulfill this requirement and am only on campus two days a week!  Why is this required class not offered on those days?!?!) and faculty (I need to teach my courses on x days at x times or the world will come to an end!).  Fair enough.  But it’s also about that pesky Big Picture thing also known as the curriculum. Yes, there are the competing demands of individuals (students and faculty) but the bigger picture is that we claim to offer a curriculum that is the reason for what we do, and the demands of individuals should be secondary to that.  Except, apparently, all people care about is their own individual demands and the need to accommodate those individual demands with the least amount of conflict possible, the details.  Now, obviously, I have individual, detailed needs of my own (I’m only human), but I can see the bigger picture and I get the need for me to serve it.  I think it’s important for the person who organizes the schedule to put the curriculum and the Big Picture before my needs, even if it makes me irritable.  Except, that’s not what’s happening.  Those who are doing the schedule are focused on the details and not on the bigger picture.  It’s a problem.

Second, a committee dealing with an issue that is Really Important.  Currently, that committee is set up in such a way that it’s all about getting details in place for the important issue.  This is work that must be done.  I get that.  Except.  Ultimately, this issue is going to require faculty buy-in.  And the way to get faculty buy-in is not to busily organize a bunch of details behind closed doors and then present it like it’s a done deal because, you know, the details are in place.  People don’t work like that.  People – and by people I mean the colleagues who together make up the biggest faction in our department – are going to resist that approach.  They may seem not to care at all about it now – mainly because the details of this are excruciatingly boring – but the minute you try to impose something on them that is going to require their time and attention, they are going to have a problem with it.  In order to get them on board, you need to present them with a Grand Vision that they believe in.  You need to explain give them a Bigger Picture and you need to make them think that this is all their idea.

Ultimately, I suppose what I’m talking about is the politics of academia vs. its procedures.  The procedures are important, but if you neglect the politics, you don’t get results.  Nothing happens except you create a bunch of documents that never go anywhere.  And let me tell you: nothing drives me crazier than not getting any results.

I understand that change is slow in an academic context, and I understand that we need to make sure to cross our t’s and dot our i’s and all that.  I understand the need to be deliberate, and I understand that as much as it’s my tendency to want to plow through to a conclusion that slow and steady wins the race.  But I hate feeling like the Big Picture is an afterthought, and that the details drive what we do more than our larger beliefs.  I hate feeling like people and community matter less than procedures and individuals, and I hate feeling like the work that I do is dictated by random circumstances rather than ideals.

I do understand that my way of seeing things isn’t the one true way, but doesn’t there have to be a conversation between my way and the other way?  Shouldn’t there be a way to use both approaches together to create something good?  Shouldn’t the details serve a bigger picture?



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This is the problem with me as a teacher.  I have agreed to meet with a student this afternoon at a time that basically gives me 3 fewer hours to do other crap I had wanted to do before going to campus, and I know that once I’m on campus the likelihood of me accomplishing anything decreases exponentially.  You might ask, why can’t you accomplish anything at work?  Well, let me tell you: this is the result of being the sort of professor who agrees to meet with students a lot, and who schedules meetings with colleagues for a variety of tasks.  It means that when I’m at work, most of my time is sucked away with both formal and informal meetings.  Which then means I can’t actually accomplish my work at work, which then means that I have to do a lot of work at home, which then means I’m working constantly and then I’m tired.

You might be wondering about this “meeting with students” thing, as lots of people – colleagues at my institution, you all out in the blogosphere, etc. – complain with some frequency about students never coming to their office hours.  I remember a time when I used to complain about that.  It was a nice time when I could actually get work done in my office, looking back.  But all of that changed at some point, oh, 6 or 7 years ago?  And it’s not just majors who want to come to my office – it’s my gen ed students, too.  And it’s not just office hours but appointments scheduled outside of office hours.  (Note: when I meet with students outside of office hours, I will often cancel scheduled office hours to make up for the time.  I’m not unaware of the need to protect my time.)  I guess my point is that at least as far as I can tell, students are engaged and they really want to do well and they do take advantage of the opportunity to consult with their professors, if they think it will help them and if they think the professor is willing.  Even in the age of smart phones and the internet.  For realz.

But so I’m tired, and I’m sick of people, and my house is a wreck which wouldn’t matter except for my parents are arriving tonight and are staying with me for the next few days, and I haven’t had the energy to work on my knitting, which blows (though, it does occur to me that I can bring my knitting with me to my office!  I should totally do that!  Although that does mean I’ll get even less work done than I normally do, but at least I’d be happy about it!  And maybe JC could show me how to finish something!), and I haven’t gotten to the gym (though I intend to do that after my first meeting today because I have a 2 hour break between that and my next meeting), and because my parents are coming I have plans every night between now and…. oh…. Monday?

So, with all of that going on, I’m going to lend my pseudonym to Moose over at Roxie’s world, and if I blog for the next little while I’m going to blog as Roxie, as I feel like if I write as a dead dog I might have more interesting things to say than all of the above paragraphs in this post.  Roxie is much more zen and thoughtful and funny than Dr. Crazy.  Maybe it’s because one has a lot fewer responsibilities as a dead dog?  And no meetings?

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Today was one of those days where I was busy all day long and yet I feel like I didn’t accomplish very much.  I had a couple of meetings with students, another meeting with a colleague, I took care of some emails, and I submitted my sabbatical report.  So in theory I accomplished a fair amount.  Oh, and I prepped for one of my three classes.

Of course, I still have prep to do for the other two classes I teach tomorrow (easy prep: all texts I’ve taught before so just a matter of going over notes and throwing some stuff up on Bb), grading for one of my classes, a ton of emailing I didn’t get through today.  This semester is kicking my ass.

That said, one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about – worrying about, in fact – is not how my ass is being kicked but rather how the asses of my junior colleagues are being kicked.  Because here’s the thing: as much as I feel like I’m swamped, I’m used to it.  And I’ve let go of a lot of the anxiety that goes with this gig,  because at a certain point, you either do that or you never relax and you never have time for yourself and you’re just miserable.  But I remember what it was like to be in my first few years on this job, and I know that’s where some of my colleagues are.  Only they have it worse than I did, for a number of reasons, most of which are beyond my control.  So I’ve been fretting, trying to think of what I can do to help, trying to figure out why things are the way they are, in terms of the way that my junior colleagues are being treated, and to figure out how things might change.

I suppose the thing that I see – and is this so glaring to me because I am back after the sabbatical break? – is a lack of generosity and kindness in the way that my colleagues treat one another.  For those of us who’ve been around a while, well, I think that we’re just desensitized to it in a lot of ways.  We’ve toughened up.  We’ve gotten to a point where that lack of generosity and lack of kindness is just part of the gig, and we either ignore it or we refuse to be dumped upon or we wallow in it and perpetuate it, or whatever, and then we just go about our business.  It’s not pleasant, and it’s not a supportive environment, but it’s not debilitating.  Or, at least I think most of us have found a way for it not to be debilitating for us.  But when a person is new – or new-ish – at this job, I think it feels very dangerous to ignore such things, or to refuse to be dumped upon, and so the order of the day is that people suffer in silence.  I know I did a fair amount of that in my first few years.  And I think my feeling of isolation did contribute to me going on the market a number of times in my first five years here – and to my inability to enjoy myself and to settle in.

When I’m not fretting about my junior colleagues, though, I’m also spending a lot of time feeling pretty great.  The WW continues to go well if slowly (~33 lbs. as of this week), I’ve managed to prioritize my needs as a human being over the demands of the job, and I’m really pleased with how my social life has expanded (more plans with friends, dating, etc.).  I mean, I’m tired, but I’m also energized, if that makes sense.  I’m really enjoying teaching, and I remain excited about the research projects that I began during sabbatical, and I’m even weirdly happy to return to some of the service that I do.  Well, or maybe not happy exactly.  More like… well, I’m satisfied with the work that I’m doing there, and I’ve gotten some much-needed perspective on it so it’s not all so life-or-death, and at the end of the day I’m happy to have a voice in the things that I’ve taken on and not to have checked out.  Being engaged is an important part of me being happy, even though that means more work.

It’s also been really good to return to the classroom, although intense and exhausting.  I really like the classes that I’m teaching, and I really like the students I’m teaching. Feeling constantly behind sucks, but well, you can’t have everything.

So that’s what’s going on with me.  I’m pretty chill, but I’m worrying a bit about a departmental culture that does not foster that kind of chillness.  It took me nearly 8 years to get to this place of chillness, and I think that’s kind of fucked up.  I don’t want to perpetuate that sort of a culture, and I don’t want to be complicit in it.  But how much can I really do?  Practically speaking, what is there for me to do?  I’m not really sure.

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