Archive for the ‘Workload’ Category

The beginning of the summer break is always a tough transition for me.  This is not a complaint – just a fact.  Moving from 9 months of meetings and classes and students and deadlines and committees and blah blah blah into lots of unstructured time requires a lot of focus and a huge change in priorities and perspective.  This is probably true for most academics with the privilege of a tenure-track job, though I suspect the shift is a bit bigger for those of us who teach at institutions with heavier teaching loads.  (Note: I know that contingent faculty would kill for this “challenge,” and thus, let me reiterate: I’m not complaining or talking about how hard it is to have a summer without teaching.  I’m very lucky.  I get it.)  But so usually at this time of year I end up making a lot of Big Plans, and then I get all Overwhelmed, and then I freak out a little bit THAT SUMMER IS OVER BEFORE IT HAS BEGUN, and then I settle in and get some good stuff done.

This year, however, my usual “process” for “easing” into the summer has been compromised.  How?  God, where even to begin?

  1. People keep coming to me for Insights, Support, and Advice.  Now, this is happening because I Know Many Things.  And it is my natural tendency to want to offer Insights, Support, and Advice, for, as a Leo (ha!  I’m only half-kidding), I really do believe that I am the absolute best person to ask for these things.  (This is a personal weakness of mine. It relates to my susceptibility to flattery.)  So in the past couple of weeks I have received a barrage of emails and had at least three lunches that are All about the Things in the Department, which is really a distraction from list-making and freaking out.  Yes, I know that I shouldn’t allow this to happen to myself.  Yes, my mother has told me for at least 20 years that I need to stop my impulse to play “Dear Abby” to people.
  2. It has become apparent that I must apply for promotion to full professor in the fall, even though I am in no way certain of actually getting it.  However, it hurts me not at all to apply, while the effect of me going up alongside others who will be applying will potentially have a positive effect, whether I get recommended for promotion or not.  So.  (Note: I am insecure about my application for reasons that have little to do with my CV.  The tiny bit of myself that is insecure because of my CV is basically because of how I was “mentored” by senior professors in my department, even though my research is in fact stronger than any of theirs was when they applied for promotion to full.)
  3. Department administrators have initiated a policy change, via email, as of 5 PM Wednesday.  The chair had scheduled a personal day Thursday, which effectively closed off the possibility for any sort of open discussion.  The policy change itself is not something I actually have a huge problem with.  But do I have a huge problem with the way in which this was handled?  Yes I do.  And do I have a huge problem with the fact that when they finally did offer some (inadequate response to questions today that it was made very clear that they were not going to be available for any other communication again until Tuesday?  Yes I do.  And do I have a problem with the fact that this policy change, while obviously (to me) necessary in the short term, is basically a band-aid over a giant gaping wound, and it does not address the source causes of the problem, nor have they appeared to have thought about the sources of the problem?  Yes, I motherfucking do.
  4. Further, and this relates to both 1. and 3. above, I appear to be the person who is going to explain all of this shit to my colleagues, even though a) I had no role in the decision and b) I actually have no authority to answer anybody’s questions.  So why do I bother to do this totally uncompensated work?  Basically, I’m trying to calm people down so that they don’t do something that totally makes us all look like lunatics to our (new) provost and incoming (in July) new dean.  I really don’t want to be part of the Crazy Department.  This shit reflects badly on me, too, yo.  (I am sorry to say, I have not been wholly successful in this effort, though I do think I have stopped some lunacy from getting out into the world.)

So that’s the overview.  These are the four thematic areas of my problems, but I’m sure if I were to list off all of the details, they would amount to 99.  But to quote Jay-Z, because clearly, we should all quote Jay-Z, “I got 99 problems, bein’ a bitch ain’t one.”

The good news is, I am on track to getting my book manuscript revised, polished, and out and under review by September, I’m going to Italy to present on something that might become the foundation of my THIRD book project in LESS THAN A MONTH, and I found out yesterday that a special session panel on which I will be a presenter at MLA 2015 in Vancouver has been accepted.  Oh, and I have finally been sucked into Twitter fully, and I am excited about my potential to use it for offering resources for the courses that I teach. (So no, it’s not Dr. Crazy twitter – it’s Real Life Professional Me Twitter.)

I do believe that is all for the moment.


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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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So I’m sitting here this morning, trying to organize my to-do list, and in the next couple of weeks I have three applications for funding to complete (and by “complete” I mean “compose from scratch”, though it is true that once I do one then the others will be modifications of that “master” application) and one conference abstract to submit (which is connected to the funding applications).  On the one hand, this is energizing work.  On the other hand, it is also the case that this week GRADING begins in earnest in my courses, plus I have regular course prep to do, plus I have Major Department Committee Activities that I need to switch into high gear.

And none of this connects to finishing my book manuscript, which has been stalled at the 65%-75% “done” place for about 4 months (and which, annoyingly, people keep asking me about my progress toward finishing).

I suppose all of this is to say that I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed, and I’m feeling a lot like I need to set some priorities.  The thing that I’m thinking about, though, is the way that external deadlines both help and hinder that priority-setting.

On the one hand, external deadlines are really necessary to my productivity.  I’m a very deadline-oriented person, and I find that the pressure of external deadlines is (mostly) a positive influence on me getting stuff done.  On the other, external deadlines also interfere with my ability to prioritize what is really most important to me, work-wise, and it stresses me out when external stuff takes precedence over my own idea of what is most important.

Now, you might ask, do you really “have” to do all of these applications?  A Potential Beau asked me a version of that question Friday, in the way that non-academics ask such questions, which usually translates into “Do you get paid for all of this stuff you’re doing?  Is it part of your job, or is it just you pursuing what you’re interested in?”  I always find myself at somewhat of a loss when people ask that sort of question, because the answer is both yes and no.  On the one hand, I could choose not to do any of this stuff, and if I made that choice, I would still have a job.  On the other, if I did that I would not really be “doing” my profession completely (at least as I conceive of what that “doing” means.)

So I guess the answer simply is that I’m doing this to myself – I’ve got all of these projects that are in various states of Not Being Finished, and what I really need to do is to proceed step by step and to finish each one methodically before I take on anything else new.  Kind of like how every now and then you need to refuse to go to the grocery store and force yourself to eat what is already in the house to empty out the cabinets and fridge.  Or kind of like how you have to forbid yourself from buying new yarn until you’ve exhausted (or at least made a dent in) the yarn you already have in your stash.

And I know from experience that I have the power deliberately to move through my list of projects and deadlines and to cross them off the list.  Indeed, just because of the external deadlines, 4 of these things will be done by Oct. 7.  So I just need to stop feeling overwhelmed and push myself to do each of the things in order.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

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So, of course everybody was linking to this Slate essay a few weeks back, and then Karen Kelsky responded, and I also read this response that I thought was really excellent, and now Karen Kelsky has another response up by a guest blogger.

This post isn’t so much about responding to any of the above, except for that I wouldn’t be writing it if this conversation weren’t happening through all of these pieces.  It just occurred to me, as I read the latest installment, that people who earn tenure don’t actually talk very much about what that’s like.  I know when I was on the tenure-track, I was all, “I must speak the truth of what this is like!”  and I was like that because I felt like Nobody Ever Talked About That To Me!!!  (In hindsight: people did talk about that to me, but I never saw people talking publicly about it, and it’s one thing to read something and it’s another to have one off-the-cuff conversation with a mentor.  So.)

I think something similar motivates the pieces that appear, with some regularity, about the horrors of the job market.  I don’t think it’s really that everybody was ignorant until it happened to them, but rather that there is something important about seeing such things discussed in a more formal way. (Aside: I think something similar motivates “Mommy” blogging.  It’s not that nobody talks about what it’s like to be a mother, or what it’s like to parent, but it can feel like one is alone because those things don’t make it into public discourse in a consistent and thoughtful way (consistently thoughtful way? maybe).)

But so what happens after you earn tenure?  (Assuming you got a tenure-track position in the first place, assuming that you didn’t get denied tenure, obviously.  This is not a post about denying the reality of the horrible job market, nor is it about denying the fact that getting the tenure-track job isn’t the end of the road.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about what having tenure is like, because some people do end up in that position.)

First, the necessary caveats: I am in a mid-sized metropolitan area in a geographical region that doesn’t suck for me (the majority of my family is within an afternoon’s drive, I actually like living here).  The cost of living is reasonable, and while I left graduate school with debt (around 20K in credit card debt, around 70K in student loan debt), I was able to eliminate the credit card debt while on the tenure track, and I have a VERY low interest rate on my loans, and I can afford to pay more than the minimum every month.  Oh, and also, I am one of the rare people who got my job offer ABD, so I don’t have years of job search  plus moving for postdocs or temporary positions expenses on top of the grad school debt.  In other words, my situation is unique, not bad at all, and ultimately, better than the situation of many people.  Even with my tenured job at a not-so-great institution with a 4-4 load.  Oh, and let’s not forget: I don’t have kids, or a spouse, to support.

But so what is my life like after I earned tenure?

  • During the academic year, I work about 40-60 hours a week, on average, when all is said and done.  In April?  Yeah, it’s like 60 hours a week.  But at the start of the semester it’s not that.  I’ve developed my assignments, I know how to manage my service commitments, and I am no longer (most semesters, though this one was an exception because I made some decisions about incorporating new texts) teaching material I’ve never taught before.  Yes, I did work those 70-80 hour weeks during the academic year before tenure, but that was because I was inventing everything from scratch.  Now, I’m not.  And I’m not a professor who phones it in and teaches from yellow notes.  But there is a difference in one’s workload when one has got some things down pat.  And there is a difference in the administrative parts of the job when one knows all the ins and outs versus when one is trying to figure everything out.
  • I am not worried about money.  This is not to say I’m out of debt.  I’m not.  I’ve got a mortgage, and I’ve got student loan payments.  But the bump that came with tenure and promotion meant that I don’t need to be as careful about money as I used to have to be.
  • While I no longer have pressure to perform individually that I felt prior to earning tenure, I now feel a lot more collective political pressure, in my department, college, and university as a whole.  On the one I feel pressure to contribute, and on the other hand I feel the pressure that comes from contributing and then getting blamed for the contributions that I make.  (If your dream of academic life is that you won’t need to work collaboratively with others, or that you won’t need to meet demands from some administrative higher power, then please do understand that academia does not afford you those things.)
  • The thing that initially drew me to a career as a professor was the research that I could do, the ideas that I could have and disseminate.  The further I get from graduate school and from my pre-tenure days, the more I have to fight to do those things that drew me to the profession, to carve out time for them in spite of other more pressing demands.  I used to judge people whom I perceived as “dead wood.”  Now I understand how they got there.
  • I feel a lot more pressure now to seek outside funding.  Even in a humanities field where that isn’t the norm, the reality in these budgetary times is that what money there for new ideas goes, and should go, to people pre-tenure.  In order not to become dead wood (see the last bullet point), I need to find a way to support my ideas that doesn’t depend on my institution or department.  That is very clear to me.  It’s challenging, exciting, and exhausting.
  • Whereas before I felt pressure to jump through hoops, now I feel pressure to sustain myself.  This sounds easy, but it’s hard to be motivated to keep on keeping on.  Now that there are very few hoops left, it’s hard to write, to think, to innovate as a teacher.  This is it.  Is this all it is?  Probably.  And it takes energy to make that new again for oneself, and to be excited.  And if you’re going to do your job well, you’ve got to find a way to do that.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, yeah, that’s my professional life these days.  And I am in a position of incredible and total privilege, and I get that.  I am not, actually, whining in this post.  I have a pretty ridiculously good life, in spite of the challenges.  But, for me, this is what tenure is like.  It’s not some nirvana wherein I don’t have to worry about doing a good job, and it has not granted me total freedom to pursue my bliss, and it doesn’t make me all that different from my colleagues who are grad students or pre-tenure or off the tenure track.  What’s good about it is that I don’t have to worry about paying my bills.  I don’t discount how good that is: that shit is good, and it’s a privilege.  But once you get tenure, well, maybe that is the brass ring, but it doesn’t mean you get some kind of get out of jail free card, or a get out of work card.  In fact, even though I work fewer hours now, I would say that I do more – and more different kinds – of work now.  I’m happy that I am in a position to do that work, because I’m a workaholic.  But it is still work.  And I don’t love a lot of it.  Short version: Tenure doesn’t make your life perfect.  No, none of us thinks it will.  Except for we all kind of do.

So should students go to grad school?  Maybe.  Should grad students seek academic employment?  Maybe.  But at the end of the day, all of these choices are about choosing a life, just like choosing any educational path is, just like choosing any career is.  What I advise my students is that they have to choose lives that they want.  And they have to know what they will give up depending on the choice.  And there are no free lunches.  Not even in academia.

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I’m pretty pleased with all that I’ve done this week, and I’m looking forward to a day that (mostly) involves scholarly business tomorrow and a weekend that involves cleaning my entire house and not doing ANY work.  [Aside, the Man-Kitty totally just body-slammed Mr. Stripey, as if he were a professional wrestler, making such a large boom that it startled me.  Apparently they both enjoyed that a lot, so I’m not going to worry about it.]

So what have I been up to this week?

  • My students and I are 5/6 of the way through Ulysses.  HUZZAH!  I absolutely cannot wait until it’s two weeks from now and we are done!  And I will be done with teaching this novel for another four years!  (I love this novel, and I love teaching it.  The issue is that the teaching of it takes every ounce of my energy, and makes me feel like a zombie by the end.  Which I actually think is what teaching this novel should make you feel like if you teach it as it should be taught, but DUDE.  It’s a lot.  A lot that involves explaining to students what “fisting” and “figging” are… and that was just today, which, frankly, I think we all should be ashamed about.)
  • I finished teaching another novel (Austen) in another class.  I also graded a stack of 21 papers and returned them.
  • I graded another stack of papers in comp, held conferences with each of my comp students, as well as got them set up for their next major assignment.
  • I finished another unit with my intro to the major students, and I did some more talking them through the paper that they will submit next week.
  • I set up a meeting for the department committee that I’m chairing.
  • I agreed to speak to a colleague’s class about scholarship stuff, which involves reading what they are reading.
  • I sent a note to a former student who is in his first semester of a Ph.D. program because I heard from a current student that he’s been having some challenges with teaching, just to offer some support.
  • I set up a lunch date with a full professory colleague so we can talk about my preparations for going up next year.
  • I talked a student out of applying to grad school (in tandem with CC who also counseled the student about the realities of it, a victory, since the student had only considered it because it seems like us proffies have so much fun, and the student doesn’t actually really want to go to graduate school, now that the realities have been made apparent).
  • I met with another student about her upcoming honors thesis, and I gave her advice about money that’s available for student research and I encouraged her to think carefully about who she chooses to direct the project (she “likes” me, and wants me, but I might not be the best person).
  • I agreed to co-direct a grad capstone for a GREAT MA student.
  • I eased the worried hearts of two undergraduate majors who were feeling freaked out about all the things.
  • I spent about 3 hours doing library researchy stuff for an article I’ve got to write by Dec. 1, and I made an outline for the article.  (I failed to write my 750 words that I’d planned to write, but that’s ok.  I’ll get some writing done tomorrow.)
  • I gave a talk at a local library about a book, and it was fabulous!  I always love doing this, but I made a wise, wise choice of book for this time around, and they actually all read it!  That said, Esmerelda is still my teacher’s pet of the folks who go to the library book talk thing 🙂  I should also note that I was very worried about reading out that passage about “cock-teasing” until I learned that a fair few of them had read 50 Shades of Grey.  Indeed, the Senior Citizens can handle it.
  • I submitted a new abstract (the acceptance was like 2 years ago, so the thing I’d originally submitted is no longer what I’m actually working on) for a talk I’ll be giving at my institution in the spring, as well as an updated bio for the flyer.
  • I bit the bullet and decided on switching up anthologies for the survey, which I will teach in the spring for the first time in a few years, and I finalized my decisions about what I’ll teach in my upper-level class next spring, and I submitted my spring book orders.  (I know, right?  I submitted them AHEAD of the ridiculously early deadline of Oct. 1.  ‘Cause I’m cool like that.)
  • I put together a proposal for a catalog change for a course that I teach, and I circulated it to the other people who teach the course as well as to my chair and assistant chair to get their feedback, with the hope that I’ll have their blessing before I submit it to our department curriculum committee.
  • I set up a work-date for tomorrow afternoon with CC (who is still pre-tenure) at which I’ll look at her summer fellowship app and give her feedback, we’ll talk about our research schedules for the rest of the semester, and (ideally) get some writing done.
  • I took a 3 hour nap on Wednesday.
  • I knitted two rows on something I’m making for my mom (which is looking like it will be a Christmas present, at the rate I’m going).
  • I watched television.
  • I bought a giant bottle of wine, and I just poured my second glass 🙂

OOH!  And I teased my colleague who took over curriculum responsibilities from me, filled with joy that I was not in her shoes!  And yes, it’s mean to tease people who are in hell, but, frankly, when I was in hell I would have enjoyed some light-hearted mocking because at least it would have meant that people knew my pain (even if they had taken pleasure in it, it would have been great to have ANY acknowledgment of my terrible plight).  But I didn’t only tease: I also gave her some suggestions for the thing that she was asking the dept. to weigh in on.

But so yes, this was a very, very productive week.  I spent approximately 5 hours on scholarly thingies, I taught for about 11 hours (yes, it should be 12, but I’ll admit I let a few classes go early this week), I spent about 8 hours meeting with students, and I spent 2 hours doing a community service thing, and I spent about 14 hours doing prep, grading, and doing emailing administrative-y service-y stuff.  Yes, I’m going to do probably five hours of work beyond that tomorrow on the scholarship stuff, but this is a reasonable work-week for a human being, given eating and bathroom breaks inside of that 45 hours.  The point is?  We don’t have to work a 60 or 80 hour week – not even during the semester – to take care of business.  When we’re newbies, sure, a 60-80-hour work-week is often real (if not ideal).  But once you’re 4 years out from tenure?  It’s totally ok to work a normal (for non-academic type people) work-week, and doing so typically can result in accomplishing all the things and then some.

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I tried to start getting in the swing of tracking workload this past week, as well as back in the swing of WW.  Now, this was sort of stupid, as my week was all nutso because it was the first week back, I was trying to get back in the right timezone, I had stupid work-related social events that involved food and drink…. So anyway, I’m going to try to get back in the swing of things this week for real.

Some observations from my less-than-successful tracking week last week: 1) At least for the first month of the semester, I’m going to be spending at least 40 hours a week on teaching.  The problem is reading.  Reading takes time.  And while it might seem like reading isn’t “work,” the kind of reading you have to do to prepare to teach a bunch of people who may or may not have done the reading is, in fact work – i.e., not terribly fun or relaxing or restful.  2) The major problem with food tracking is having food in single-serving sizes that I’ve already calculated the points for, i.e., cooking at least one major meal ahead to get me through those days of the week when I’m a nutso.  Given the fact that I didn’t return from MLA until like 11 PM on the eve of the semester, that just didn’t happen last week.  3) I did get some research reading done last week in spite of the challenges, but no writing.  This week I’ve got to do better.  4) I’ve also got to get better about remembering to track the work.  Food is easier as I’m eating much less of the time, and I don’t do as much multitasking while eating.  With work, I’m doing it more often and I’m doing other crap while I’m also working more often.  Maybe the trick to workload management is not to multitask quite so much?  Something to ponder.

On that note, let’s begin the second of 15 brutal Tuesdays.  And yes, I plan to count down like this all semester, because it does help to see that I’m getting closer to being finished with this terrible schedule.

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