Friday, April 11, 2008

The Next Go Round

My boss, who is really sweet one on one, took me to lunch a couple of weeks ago and gave me a bit of advice about my next job. He told me to take the long view and not get so stressed out about doing it all at once. I'm not sure what kinds of mythologies exist in peoples' perceptions of my time at this University but I was pretty stressed out. I didn't realize how stressed until I quit. I was never entirely sure how much service I was doing or needed to do, if my presence on campus was sufficient, if my publications mattered at all, if I graded too easy or too hard. So I'm trying to think about how I'll do things differently at the next job.

From the above list, it seems obvious and apparent that perhaps I should have asked. Of course, I did ask my one good friend but, as a friend, he tended to either support or tease me about freaking out about these things. I should have asked the chair these things, at least some of them, just so as to alleviate my stress. I think I was afraid he would say, you do too little. Now I find out that in some ways, he thinks I did too much. I've never been good about asking for help or feedback. In PhD school, I spent little time in my professors offices. I think this was a huge drawback to my grad school experience and, though I've known I'm like this, I still haven't corrected it. In fact, when students come to visit me in my office, I stare at them like what could I possibly tell you here that you couldn't ask me in class. I mean, my students come. We have good discussions. But I'm so unclear as to WHY they're there (they don't tell me) that I just talk and pontificate. If they have a clear question, it's easy, but the hanging out as an extension of the professorial experience makes me act all talky and uncomfortable.
So my prejudice against office-time goes both ways. One way to fix this is to change the context of the office hour by taking it out of the office. Fortunately, at my new school, there are compulsory writing center hours. If nothing else, I will have face-time with students when they don't have to specifically seek me out. The other thing to do, is to schedule time with my chair and other profs throughout the semester so I make myself go to the meetings. If I schedule something, I might be able to be more precise in the way I ask how am I doing, am I doing enough service, what kinds of service should I be doing.....
The other good thing about the new job is that my service is already built into the job so wandering around the hallways looking for ways to distinguish my service will not be so difficult. At my current job, everyone had claimed their service territories and I wasn't sure how to claim my own. I ended up doing a lot of assessment, benchmarking, curriculum development-type work (which helped me get this new job, I think) but at the new job, I'll be the point person, the public face of the department, which is something that suits the kind of service I want to be doing.

Other random things I'll do differently

1. Get to town earlier. We arrived in this town ten days before classes started. We had a couple of personal crises plus a one-year old who was still a entirely new concept. We knew where nothing was. We had no vacuum. We didn't know where the grocery store was. We couldn't decide on cable or not. I barely knew how to drive to campus. In fact, it took me a whole semester to figure out the fast way. I missed some of the first of the year meetings on campus so Erik could interview for jobs. I feel like I started behind and have been playing catch up ever since.

2. Figure out a babysitter/daycare situation. Before we knew that daycare would be the infectious trap that it was, we planned for Z to be in daycare the whole time while Erik worked. We realized that Zoe would not be able to go to school as sick as she got, we ended up in the hospital. Erik quit his job, in part, so he could take care of her. In Mountain Town I'm going to have to have a sitter to cover my schedule plus preschool for her so she can get some kid-time in but if she does still get sick, Erik and I can go to work and I'll feel like I'm putting in plenty of face time.

3. Have a party early on. Invite everyone before I figure out who likes who and who tends to hang out with who else.

4. Ask how people grade grad students and then how they grade their undergrads. Having gone to Reed and then grad school, I still find all this grading mysterious. I do grade creative work but maybe I should stop and just grade brilliant comments.

5. Get in a writing group. I have online ones but I miss having a regular face-to-face meeting.

6. Take at least one weekend day off. Go somewhere. That's why we moved there. For the somewhere.

7. Write down long-term service goals. Piece them out into workable parts. Do a little part. Again, with the long view.

8. Hang out at school. This will be easier as I hope that we live closer to campus. It sucks if it takes 25 minutes to get to campus. One is likely to go for a long time, but not as often.

I'm sure there are more ways to take the long view but this is a good start. Maybe if I make my plans public, I'll stick to them. Perhaps someone could ask me some time in October if I've been to visit my chair lately or had a party. Or find out when I will be having a party and then you can come. It would be easier if I already knew some people there....


Dr Write said...

You nail so many things in this list. The party, before you are worried about whether colleague A and colleague Z will be civil to one another because they are still mad about that argument they had 10 years ago about Chaucer.
The service goals and doing them in parts. Little by little. It can be overwhelming!
And the asking. Still hard for me. Sometimes I don't know what I don't know. (Like Ashcroft!) But still, the asking is good. Plus people like to help.
And the going out to the somewhere. I hope the somewhere includes here. Not for just one day probably, but maybe for a long weekend?
Or meeting halfway for camping?

Valerie said...

I agree! It's always hard for you (and me too) to slow down and not worry about what everyone thinks. Their stuff is theirs. Asking questions is never failure. It's a lesson forever.

What Now? said...

These are such excellent goals. I'm particularly struck with the first one, probably because when I started my last job at St. Martyr's, we arrived in town three weeks before school, and our furniture didn't arrive (very late) until the first day of classes. And I felt so rushed and disoriented and behind the whole first term that it took me much longer, I think, to really feel settled in the job as well as the town.

So when are you all moving?

Lisa B. said...

You know, each one of these items could be a short chapter, and all the chapters a short book, called, _How to Start Your Academic Career Without Losing Your Mind_ (or Soul, depending if you want to play the new age-y card). Very perspicacious. Very Wise. You should mentor someone (and don't you love "mentor" as a verb? because I know I hate it.).

P said...

Fantastic plan... Jealous of the fresh start, if we can still do that after twentysomething. Blake in a coffeehouse is why I am a scientist! Cannot stand the questionable questions and answers, but I do still remember a few Blake line. Ah sunflower, weary of time. who catches the rays of the sun.

Molly said...

You, talky and uncomfortable? Nay. I don't believe it.

I will come to your party. Have it when it is cold in Michigan, which is, like, always.

momesq said...

I'm happy to think of you in a place that I know (more of). Hurray for Mountain Town! I had a mini therapy session with a friend today about being obsessed at work and how it sucks you in. It occurred to me afterwards and then again now - here we all are, obsessed by work, which is related to life and who we are and what we want to do and be but not quite. What you've got is going around...