Let Summer Read 2016 Begin!

copyright 2016, U of Toronto Press

Happy July, true believers! As promised nine days ago, the shiny new Teaching Prof in Progress Book Club is launching an inaugural Summer Read virtual book discussion. And everyone who teaches (or cares about teaching and teachers) in higher education is invited… So let’s get this party started!


promise that guy will not be there.

Our first Summer Read will be a discussion of Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016, University of Toronto Press) on the Goodreads social media site. And getting involved is super easy:

Participation will also be easy.  I will post discussion questions on the Book Club’s page, and we’re off! You can respond, post your own discussion questions, and engage one another throughout the month of July until August 8 as your summer schedule allows — flexibly, on your own time.

To give you a teaser of what we’ll discuss, here are the questions for the Introduction to the book — a tad provocative, if I do say so myself? [And sorry, but no page numbers for the quotations… I’m reading the Kindle edition.]

(1) The Introduction points out the familiar 1-2 punch that motivated the authors to write the book:

  • “Flexibility of hours can translate into working all the time, particularly because academic work by its very nature is never done.”
  • “When we look at studies of academic stress, we are struck by how many situations identified as sources of work stress are about lack of time.”

Let’s start the conversation by addressing the elephant in the room: is this problem, ultimately, unfixable? What have been your experiences with this dilemma? Thoughts?

(2) At one point the authors observe, regarding policy change at our institutions,

  • “A surprising common thread in studies of the corporate university is an emphasis on change being in the hands of individual professors.”

Potentially empowering, sure, but adding to our stress? What kinds of related observations and/or experiences have you had? Thoughts?

(3) What else struck you as important in the Introduction? Observations? Questions for the group?

Intrigued???? Hope so!  Come join the club, tell your friends, colleagues and grad students about it (and the TPP blog, and the Facebook and Twitter platforms), and let’s meet in the salon!


Where have I been? Just truckin’ along…

Robert Crumb, http://www.trippystore.com/robert_crumb_keep_on_truckin_black_light_poster.html


Welcome back to the blog, new readers and true believers. Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.


Some of you might have little tickles in the back of your brain, vague memories of my last post on August 24, 2015. I was preparing to begin the next career adventure: a new faculty position in the University of Missouri’s Department of Communication. For the new fellow traveler, or for those needing a reminder, click here for the post.  The first day of school is often a time of verdant optimism — it always has been for me. And so there I was, anticipating with enthusiasm my regular blog updates, chronicling this pivotal year of transition, reflecting on the challenges, rewards and discoveries of the sea change from tenured full professor and part-time administrator at a small liberal arts college to non-tenure-track teaching faculty at a flagship public research university.

And then life happened.

Doesn’t it always?


(Find out what happened after the jump!)

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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.


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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Stop sprinting on the treadmill — get somewhere with time management!

Ever had one of those weeks where it feels like you’re sprinting on a treadmill, not getting anywhere but worried that you’ll trip and crash if you don’t keep up? One of those months? Academic terms?

We all know what it is to be busy, even overextended. We all also, I trust, have a keen understanding of the innumerable ways in which we don’t use the time we have effectively. As I have been looking for time and space to breathe this spring, my friend Chris passed along this article on the Entrepreneur website on time management a couple of weeks ago. It is perhaps an ironic commentary on my own anemic time management skills that I’m just getting to this now… and a further irony that I ran across it in the first place during some Facebook-involved procrastination.

But as the academic year winds down (meaning that we have much to complete, and miles to go before we sleep), and the summer begins (meaning that we still have much to complete, but the illusion of “plenty of time” luring us into complacency), perhaps these tips will come in handy for all of us as we attempt to stop sprinting on the treadmill and actually get somewhere with our time.


10 Time Management Tips That Work


Chances are good that, at some time in your life, you’ve taken a time management class, read about it in books, and tried to use an electronic or paper-based day planner to organize, prioritize and schedule your day. “Why, with this knowledge and these gadgets,” you may ask, “do I still feel like I can’t get everything done I need to?”

The answer is simple. Everything you ever learned about managing time is a complete waste of time because it doesn’t work.

[intrigued? read more after the jump!]

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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?


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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When to write? Finding the best time for your intellectual workout

I work out early in the morning. At times this decision feels like a painful one — usually in the 5-10 minutes after the alarm goes off. Once I’m past that pernicious obstacle, I can (usually) get it done, and then I feel a lot better the rest of the day. On those occasions when I’ve “postponed” the workout until the afternoon or evening after work, it pretty much never happens. I feel more tired, and/or other activities (family, work, Netflix, PlayStation) win my attention, and next thing you know the conductor of my evening train has punched my ticket to Rationalizationville.

As many of us likely feel, writing can feel like exercise: it’s good for us, and we feel great after a successful attempt, but it’s difficult to “find the time” and feel emotionally ready for the biggest obstacle: making the decision to commit to the first 5-10 minutes of the workout.

Jolie Jensen, a communication scholar (excellent!) from the University of Tulsa writes in Vitae about how to think about the relationship between our personal energy levels and work productivity, and provides some tips for finding the best time for your intellectual workout. Feel the burn!


The Hidden Key to Productivity: Getting Smart About Energy

Jolie Jensen, University of Tulsa

March 14, 2014

Want to swap writing strategies? We’re starting a discussion group on scholarly writing. Join us! Start a discussion of your own.

If you’re like most academic writers, you don’t pay much attention to the way your energy levels fluctuate as you work. Instead you just keep pushing yourself to get through the day.

What you may not realize: Protecting your energy is key to academic productivity. Sure, it is important to use techniques to connect effectively with your project and to schedule frequent, low-stress, high-reward times to write. And it helps to have an inviting, orderly workspace with “a door that closes.” But once you’ve tamed your project, and secured writing time and space for it, you still need to learn how to make the most of those periods of the day when you tend to be most productive.

[concrete good stuff after the jump]

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Time is running out… Is it our own fault?

Harold Lloyd, "Safety Last!", Hal Roach Studios,1923

So, today I worked on materials for my first week of class next week, met with a colleague about some possible development conversations on campus next year, and did some work on this blog while I fretted about how much course prep and research work I need to do over the next few days. I’m on break right now.

My Facebook feed has pulsed lately with responses to the “Cult of Busy”, frequently posting links to the following Washington Post blog post: “Recline, Don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg).”  And the folks posting these links frequently — like me — are not only perpetually busy, but much of their busy-ness is also self-imposed. Is this a generational issue? Or is there something inherently pathological about a career in academe?

Philip Nel wrote a great piece for Inside Higher Ed that my wife Laura recommended to me. I pass it on to you. Read it and consider it… when you have time.


In Search of Lost Time
March 3, 2014

As I am writing this article, I should be writing something else: an email to an editor, an email to an author, a letter of recommendation, notes for tomorrow’s classes, comments on students’ papers, comments on manuscripts, an abstract for an upcoming conference, notes for one of the books I’m working on. I cannot remember the last time I ended a day having crossed everything off my to-do list.

Why do academics work so much?

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