Slowing down… feelin’ groovy? or delusional?

Sometimes tourist traps really get the job done.

So, how has your summer been so far? I have been pretty good about taking it easy and refreshing myself. While I have only very recently started back on working out and getting back in shape (only a month behind my resolved schedule), I just wrapped up a fun family vacation to Branson, Missouri — a few days of amusement park-ing, tacky-tastic touristing, and time in the pool with my kids and on the town with my best girl.

I haven’t been all lay-about idle (as my summer school prep and recent relaunching of this blog attest)… but I have been slowing down, and feelin’ groovy.

Alas, the incursions of the real world inevitably intrude as they will — time-sensitive e-mails about administrative matters from colleagues and students, and the realization that summer school will start all to soon, meaning summer school prep Must. Be. Finished. Soon.  I want to feel groovier more consistently, but sometimes going slower makes me feel anxious and guilty — not very groovy at all. Sound familiar?

[A potentially useful response for all of us after the jump!]

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Listen to Ringo! Turn to your friends.

One of the truly irritating things about a career in academia is that it is invariably performed by human beings. Well, perhaps nearly  invariably — we all know that certain bionic colleague who seems to be able to do it all effortlessly, leaving the rest of us breathless and in awe.

No, that’s bunk — even the Six Million Dollar Faculty experience the same occasional crisis moments and more common feelings of fatigue, overwhelm, and panic. The job demands much, sometimes too much, and we’re just regular people with limits and limitations. And these moments of — what? inevitable humanity? — happen at every stage of the academic career, and never at an opportune moment. Usually at the worst moments, right? The days after midterms and finals with a stack of work to assess and students expecting grades. The looming deadline for a manuscript submission. The weeks of preparing for a tenure or promotion review. And then there’s the all-too-mundane yet all-too-human inevitabilities: illness, family concerns, conflicting obligations… you know, life stuff.

Where can we turn for the answer? Of course, you reply: Ringo Starr, and his friends.

Sometimes, the answer to the most complex personal problems can be as simple (and yet as profound) as the simplest pop song lyrics:

What do I do when my love is away
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day
Are you sad because you’re on your own?

No, I get by with a little help from my friends…

Of course, in academia, this approach assumes that the friends are there — that you’ve taken the time and effort to cultivate collegial connections with the folks in your department and elsewhere. When you’re a new faculty member, of course, this requires reaching out for help making these connections: to department chairs, a faculty mentor, other senior faculty, more-senior junior faculty, the faculty development staff at your institution.

Even with the groundwork laid by a network of familiar and dependable colleagues, though, it still takes a certain strength to admit the need to reach out. The life of an academic can feel like a solitary one so much of the time; it can seem presumptuous, even inappropriate, to ask someone to cover your classes, shoulder some of your work, or even just take time from their own frenetic schedule to listen to you vent. But Nate Kreuter from Western Carolina University reminds us in Inside Higher Ed that we need to give ourselves permission to channel our inner Ringo, and seek the help we need.

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October 1, 2014

Sometimes we are overwhelmed. The forces of life converge, place us in a bind, and restrict our ability to do our jobs. We’ve all watched it happen to a friend or colleague. Perhaps many of us have experienced it for ourselves. In these moments, our work life can become secondary, and probably should become secondary in many cases.

We need, during these moments, to ask for help.

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Go ahead… “rush” into networking!

I don’t know about you, but I always feel a bit nervous about situations where making conversations with total strangers is part of the point.  You know, what some folks call “schmoozing.” I have typically felt weird about schmoozing. I think many of us introverts who are drawn to academia feel this way. Part of me is afraid this will happen:

There are a couple of important realities about the schmooze, however. One is that it is usually a lot less like rushing the Omega House than you might imagine. Another is that conversation for networking — be it for a job search, promoting a scholarly project, making inroads for your student advisees with other institutions, or personal development — is a vital professional skill. As I prepare for a number of conferences and off-campus meetings over the next couple of months, I’m finding myself nearing a number of potential networking moments that I don’t want to waste.

Just in time for the conference season, graduate student career consultant Christine Kelly  offers this valuable advice in Inside Higher Ed.  Check it out!  Then, if you’re thinking you’re ready to take your schmoozing game to the next level, check out these power networking tips “for people who hate networking” from Eric Barker in The Week.

Then you won’t need to worry about being stuck in the corner with Kent and Lonny… er, Larry.

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September 29, 2014

I attended a conference recently and stayed at a hotel that required me to take a shuttle to get to my events. On my first shuttle ride back to the hotel I chatted with another hotel guest who was attending a different conference and also not staying at his conference hotel. We chatted about a variety of things before we got to that pivotal point where I was very glad I chose this particular hotel.

It turns out he worked for a company not far from where I work, and when I learned that piece of information my next question was, ”Do you hire graduate students?” I told him I worked with graduate students at the University of California at Irvine and would love to help his company connect with our students. We exchanged business cards and when I got back to work I sent him an email and information about our Career Center and reiterated that I could help his company connect with students. Since then I’ve also been able to introduce students to his company. This happened because I ignored what my mother told me and I talked to a stranger. As we approach conference season I want to encourage graduate students to talk to strangers and I offer this primer to those who hate to network.

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Can professors work 9 to 5? (Clean up the coffee you just spit out.)

Compared to most folks, we work weird jobs. Now, that’s true for lots of reasons, but one of them is the bizarre relationship we have with time. On the one hand, we are usually blessed with a flexibility in our professional schedule that our friends and loved ones who work 9 to 5 would kill for.

On the other hand, we are constantly complaining about being overworked. And that’s not an unreasonable complaint — late-night lesson preps, weekend grading binges, committee meetings that are never scheduled at convenient times… The issue of work/life balance is a constant in academia, it seems, and the goal envisioned in this discussion is one few people seem to achieve… unless, of course, in the estimation of some of us, that lucky sot is obviously letting something slide.

So when I started reading Trish Roberts-Miller’s piece in Inside Higher Ed this morning, I had to clean up the coffee I spit out. Her claim — that yes, we academics can manage the average pace of a 9 to 5 schedule — is at once audacious and uncomfortably on point for those of us who revel in how “busy” we always are.  (Please bear in mind that this article is not being shared by one who has mastered this discipline! I am digesting this food for thought myself, and considering how to implement her advice to tame my own crazy work rhythms.) It might not be a bad idea to try timing our work like lawyers to see where our productivity waxes and wanes, so that one day we can work more like bankers and rest and play like real people.

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August 25, 2014

Recently, I told a group of graduate students that it’s possible to finish a dissertation and have a happy scholarly career while working 9 to 5. I think they were cheered and shocked, and I only later realized there might have been a lot of confusion. It’s hard to talk about working hours and academics partially because we have what others have called a culture (perhaps even cult) of “busyness,” partially because of the collapse of the 40-hour work week, and partially because academic work is a gas that will expand to fill all the time available.

So here is an attempt to clarify.

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Free webinar on “The Flipped Classroom” coming soon!

Interested in the “flipped classroom” concept? Blended/hybrid learning? Maybe you would be, but don’t know much about it?

Check out this free webinar provided by Inside Higher Ed on Thursday, May 8, 2014, 1:00 PM CDT. I’ll be there!

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Thursday, May 8, 2014 1:00:00 PM CDT – 2:00:00 PM CDT
The idea of the “flipped classroom” has taken off in higher education in recent years – and it is used to describe a wide variety of teaching styles. What they have in common is that they largely replace the lecture. For material that might have been delivered in lecture format previously, online instruction is provided in advance of the class. This allows for time in class to be used in different ways – group work, discussion and other forms of highly engaged participatory learning become the norm. 
 
Discussion of the flipped classroom thus is a mix of teaching with technology – and teaching without technology. It’s about pedagogy, learning and the role of the instructor. And in an era in which educators and policy makers alike want to promote student learning and achievement (not just showing up in class), the flipped classroom has become a key strategy.
 
In this FREE WEBINAR, Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman explore a range of ideas and opinions about the flipped classroom.

Read up before you participate! Visit www.insidehighered.com/booklets to download "The Flipped Classroom," a compilation of news articles and opinion essays, the latest in Inside Higher Ed's series of booklets on hot issues in higher education. 

Inside Higher Ed's "The Flipped Classroom" webinar is made possible with the support of Adobe. Your registration information will be shared with the company. 

Captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing provided by CaptionAccess.

Where does the time go? TAWKS might know…

A number of my colleagues, especially those involved in significant service commitments, have recently observed how the looming end of the academic year feels like such a time crunch: not only are we continuing our ongoing work in teaching, meetings and research (when we can fit it in), but the “needs doing by the end of year” deadline for bigger projects looms large, putting pressure on everyone. This is just one of the more salient moments that feature a plaintive refrain of all academic professionals — where does the time go?

Some new research on this issue at Boise State University was recently featured in Inside Higher Ed. Consider the findings of TAWKS: does this profile of faculty work-time feel familiar? How different might it be at a different sort of institution (say, a residential liberal arts college like mine)? What patterns are familiar?

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So Much to Do, So Little Time
April 9, 2014

Professors work long days, on weekends, on and off campus, and largely alone. Responsible for a growing number of administrative tasks, they also do research more on their own time than during the traditional work week. The biggest chunk of their time is spent teaching.

Those are the preliminary findings of an ongoing study at Boise State University — a public doctoral institution — of faculty workload allocation, which stamps out old notions of professors engaged primarily in their own research and esoteric discussions with fellow scholars.

“The ivory tower is a beacon — not a One World Trade Center, but an ancient reflection of a bygone era — a quasar,” John Ziker, chair of the anthropology department at Boise State University, says in a new scholarly blog post in which he discusses his faculty workload findings. “In today’s competitive higher-education environment, traditional universities and their faculty must necessarily do more and more, and show accomplishments by the numbers, whether it be the number of graduates, the number of peer-reviewed articles published or the grant dollars won.”

Ziker’s Blue Review post continues: “It is harder to count — and to account for — service and administrative duties. These are things we just do because of the institutional context of Homo academicus, and it’s hard to quantify the impact of these activities or the time spent, but they are exceedingly important for intellectual progress of the larger Homo clans.”

But of course just how professors spend their time has major implications for faculty, students and their institutions, he says – especially as Boise State has recently adopted a policy that professors should spend 60 percent of their time teaching. Hence the need for the Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study, or “TAWKS.”

[more after the jump!]

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Multitasking is for suckers… Monotask!

I stink at grading. There. I said it.

It’s not that I provide inadequate feedback. While I sometimes err on the side of too much, I think I do formative assessment pretty well (now, if they’d only read my comments…). No, the problem is actually doing it. Part of the problem is my career-long battle with procrastination. But a key factor is my inability to just sit and do it. I have a similar problem with research writing. I’ll determine a time to do it… and then other stuff creeps in: adjusting my course prep; replying to e-mail; responding to inquiries from colleagues on various administrative matters; reading a news article that seems interesting. I tell myself I’m multitasking — and all of it is done in less-than fashion.

Multitasking sometimes works, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced it’s a myth bordering on a sick joke. In a 2008 issue of The New Atlantis, Christine Rosen writes about “The Myth of Multitasking.” She quotes one of the celebrated letters by 18th century British statesman Lord Chesterfield to his son: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” She also draws on the work of Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of CrazyBusy:

[I]n his book he calls multitasking a ‘mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.’ In a 2005 article, he described a new condition, ‘Attention Deficit Trait,’ which he claims is rampant in the business world. ADT is ‘purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live,’ writes Hallowell, and its hallmark symptoms mimic those of ADD. ‘Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points,’ Hallowell argues, and this challenge ‘can be controlled only by creatively engineering one’s environment and one’s emotional and physical health.’

University of Colorado grad student Katie Shives suggests a possible solution in Inside Higher Ed‘s gradhacker blog. It is at once deceptively simple and possibly essential for professional productivity. Perhaps I’ll try it!

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The Lost Art of Doing One Thing at a Time
April 8, 2014 – 9:22pm

abstract photo of car in tunnelKatie Shives is a PhD candidate in Microbiology at the University of Colorado. During her free time she writes about microbiology-related topics at kdshives.com and on Twitter @KDShives.

Today I submitted my very first grant application to the NIH. Funny thing is, until yesterday I thought I had 6 days to submit. However, I did not factor in early submission deadlines, so thanks to a well-timed reminder from our Grants and Contracts office I suddenly realized I had less than 24 hours to finish a grant package with all of the supporting materials or else all of my hard work would be for nothing. How did I get it all finished in time (other than lots and lots of coffee)?

Monotasking

Or, as I like to refer to it “the lost art of doing one thing at a time.”

[more after the jump!]

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