Ooh. Recently happened upon this interesting list of to-dos for male academics on the multi-authored Tenure, She Wrote blog, of which I am a fan. An interesting debate broke out about item #19 in the comment thread. One commentator also took offense at the use of the term “mansplain,” saying it was the anti-male equivalent to “feminazi.” 

While it is hard for me to pick my favorite item on the list, I certainly found the most provocative item to be the last entry, in which the author, Acclimatrix, says that men who actively seek to arrest and diminish sexist behavior in academia should not expect to be thanked, but should merely do so because it is the right thing to do.

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While I have been absent from this blog for a long time (race to the tenure clock finish line fast approaching– ARGH!!) I did want to repost this wonderful (and frustrated) blog column from Anne Thériault’s blog, Belle Jar in which she responds to a male professor’s rant about how he loves no female writers and therefore excludes them from all his syllabi. Seriously. Thériault’s response is exasperated, and extremely satisfying. That is all.

Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days.

August 9, 2012

There’s a certain inevitability to the academic summer. It’s never as productive as the May-version of yourself thinks it will be. As soon as August creeps up on us and September is in sight, the regrets begin and we start to blame ourselves for being ambitious to the point of ruination, destining ourselves to fall short of our goals and thus, wallow in the paralysis of impossibility. Self-loathing and accusations of laziness may be part of the formula. Time seems strangely unaccounted for: just where, exactly, did the first half of June and the middle third of July go? What do I have to show for it?

Before I start down the slippery slope of self-loathing and accusation, Professor Rottweiler is going to take a left turn at the traffic light and redirect her energies. How about, this summer, instead of hating ourselves for what we didn’t do, we congratulate ourselves for what we did do? So may be you couldn’t start checking off your task list until well nigh the end of June. So what? Have you ever noticed how utter exhaustion and fatigue set in mere moments after that last grade is turned in? It’s because you’ve spent an entire semester pouring generous energies into teaching, planning, classroom management, assessment, advising, lecture writing and lesson plans (and that doesn’t even cover all of the research activities you keep up with, and the service requirements you fulfill). It’s no wonder that when the teaching semester ends, all of the strain and anxiety of keeping your s&^t together for the classroom gives way to recovery time. Check recovery off of your list. It had to happen. Without recovery time, none of us would ever step back into the classroom come the fall, let alone have enough energy or wits left to write a single word towards those oh-so-vital pubs that will seal the tenure deal.

And while one may not have accomplished everything on that to-do list, one has to think of summer plans sort of like running a race. (Warning: here comes a silly analogy that takes its cue from the Olympic season and all). When running a race, the runner runs full out to a point beyond the finish line. Think of the summer task list as being a good distance past the finish line. If you cross off a good half of that list, you’ve made a significant distance. No one does everything on that summer task list. And let’s wring a couple more comparisons out of our racing analogy, and emphasize that a strong finish is important. WIth a few weeks left till the semester starts, there is still time and sufficient motivation to get through a few more tasks. 

So how about it? Load up your playlist with some of your favorite tunes and start pounding the pavement. Whether the task is whipping Fall syllabi into shape, polishing up a chapter, starting a new project, building a bibliography or otherwise catching up on literature, or even squeezing in that one last all-important vacation so you’re tank is full when the teaching season begins again, there is still time to cross the finish line in top form. 

Here I sit in surprise that this year’s blogging amounts to the equivalent of punctuation— one paltry opening parenthetical of a post and now this closing parenthetical (still remains to see whether it will be a meager post or something replete with, err, wisdom, or humor, or just, well… best not to set the bar too high, I think).  Year four on the tenure track turned out to be one long slog of a temporal paradox– simultaneously maddeningly quick, frustratingly slow, and dense and, hey!  Where’d all the time go?  I didn’t think it would be a two-blog post kind of a year, but here I am, a couple of days after having turned in all final grades, no papers to grade, no student emails to respond to (now that the grade grubbers/whiners/whingers have been dispatched) with the summer stretched out ahead of me. For a few moments, I get to feel calm. It will be a few weeks more till the panic sets in and the realization that my ambitions for the summer are utterly unrealistic hits me.

As with any good doggy (as in, tenure track assistant professor), this summer comes with pre-set research must-do’s. A conference to attend (and a new paper to write), a grant to submit (and pilot research to wrap up re: said grant), a chapter to finish. There will be research and writing and living life to the fullest in the in-betweens. Summer is when Rottweilers delude themselves with the notion of achieving work-life balance, in which there will be dedicated time to play and relax, and then research intensity of the likes heretofor unseen. I will cling to this fantasy until the summer blows past and it’s August.

At present, however, I am full of good intentions. I am also accepting that while I am surprised that I’ve had zero time to blog, I shouldn’t be. This year was the year of the third year review, in which your department analyzes your scholarly record since your appointment and decides whether or not they want to give you another three years to make the big run up to tenure. But it was year four at Midwestern U., you say?  That is, if you have been paying attention. Ah, but with a new addition to the Rottweiler household last year, a year was added to my tenure clock, so I essentially get a do-over of year three.  Those of you who think that Midwestern U. is a benevolent and thoughtful employer with this awesome policy of adding a year to the tenure clock to tenure track parents (be they of the maternal or paternal persuasion) are both correct and incorrect.  You are correct because this is an awesome policy and every university should give such gender-blind considerations to the tenure trapped [like that?  It’s the fantasy sitcom title Schnauzer and I picked out for our hilarious series on the lives of faculty– Tenure Trapped, coming soon to a blog near you].

But the thing is, if a university is willing to give you year to “make up” for the loss of time you will experience upon becoming a parent, then you’d better believe that you are going to have WAY MORE GROUND TO RECOVER.  Particularly given that most of us faculty types relocate to wherever the job may be miles away from friends, family, and other support structures that will help ease the burden of child-rearing.  Grandparents, uncles, aunts, childhood best friends whom you would trust with life and limb…. we have many of these folks in our lives, but few to none live within hiking distance of our family. So this was a very busy year because it meant getting back into the teaching, researching, publishing, advising swing of things while simultaneously taking care of a growing little one. And let me just say that one can anticipate what it means to care for a child, but never in my life have I ever shared the responsibility for caring for someone (or thing, for that matter) 24/7. There is no off-duty when you are parenting, EVER. Even when you aren’t on duty, there is always a possibility you can get tagged in.

Somehow within the 24/7 world of being responsible for another human being, I put together a mini-portfolio in which I fashioned a narrative of modest academic success (some articles out, a completed book manuscript under review, a new project in the works, “solid” teaching evaluations, “interesting” courses taught). In order for this modest success to be truthful, it meant that I had to get my book manuscript in shape and shop it before I submitted my materials, which made the Spring semester an awful lot of fun. I sharpened up the first two chapters until they were in acceptable form, and then polished up my book prospectus and sent it out, thinking it would be weeks and weeks before I heard from anyone. Instead, one editor swiftly and politely rejected the manuscript, another has not bothered to even acknowledge the submission, and a third turned around and said, “Send me everything you’ve got NOW.” This last prompted much excitement and panic on my part and lead to another rather intense period of manuscript revision (this is where my Spring Break went).

In the mean time, the parenting continued and the youngest Rottweiler seems to be mastering bipedalism and not displaying any signs of sociopathy, which is all you can hope for.  The summer lies ahead, a hazy set of days through which I can continue to blaze an insane pace or, if I choose, slow my speed, re-evaluate, and may be, if the forces that be cooperate, write a couple of blog entries now and again.

I want to go to there.

September 16, 2011

Where is there?  Anywhere but the classroom.  Three weeks into the new semester and, guess what, I think I may be allergic to teaching!  As Scrappy Doo grows into that truly delectable puppy stage and research starts to take off, I find myself wishing I was anywhere but the classroom when I am in there.  And it’s not that all of my classes are terrible– it’s just the one that is, well, a little, uh, soul-sucking.  What I mean is that no matter how animated or pushy I am, this one class just always makes me feel completely and utterly wrung out, like an abused juice box in the middle of the Sonora Desert… there is just no Kool-Aid left.  I find myself in the middle of the lecture wistfully staring out the window (not unlike my students) wishing I were… elsewhere.  Anywhere.  Just not there, in the classroom.  Perhaps home observing Scrappy Doo develop yet another teensy weensy bit of advanced motor control.  Or else conducting an interview or some fieldwork or even doing some tedious data entry, just, PLEASE DON”T LEAVE ALONE WITH THEM!  They are mental vampires, those students— suck suck sucking away at all my energy.  I go home deflated, flattened, with nothing left for myself, my puppy, Mr. Rottweiler.  I can barely even manage to rub the cat under the chin (yes, the Rottweilers have a cat).  I feel the tiniest bit of guilt for not having my heart in it, but, well, what’s a Rottweiler to do?    Tired professors of the world, whatever your breed, please to regale us with tales (or tails?) of self-motivation… otherwise I have a feeling this semester is going to be cruelly long.

The jig is (almost) up.

July 15, 2011

Well, it’s not so much that the jig is up, but that the leave, as in, family leave, is almost over.  The burning question on my mind is how the hell does anyone get tenured with a baby?  My ambitions to polish off that book manuscript before the arrival of my pup, let’s call him Scrappy Doo, were, well, just that… ambitions. Post-December, when I was through with the semester, I got to the point of the pregnancy where my body was just too damn distracting to get any work done.  Too pregnant to sit down for very long or to stand up for very long.  This put a serious cramp in my writing time and my reading time, so I found that I could really only do little snippets of editing, or quick reading.  And once Scrappy arrived, well… we are only now emerging from the sleep-deprivation induced haze of those early months.  And it’s all relative since now we are in the “I am constantly tired and can just about manage” stupor.  I’ve become rather adept at typing with one hand, editing in five minute chunks, emailing using the voice recognition feature of my phone (caved and got a smartphone— still waiting for someone to develop an “Earn Tenure” app).

Scrappy Doo is now passing from newbornitude into proper baby-ness, and I am about a month away from having to be back in the classroom.  The search for childcare has begun in hopes of buying me some work time and Mr. Rottweiler some dissertation time come the Fall.  I have mixed feelings about going back to work full-time (let’s be honest, even at my most pregnant and then, post-partum sleep deprived, I never truly stopped working, at least a little here and there).  First, I wish I had stopped, full on.  I am all too aware that Scrappy Doo is an ephemeral and ever-changing creature who ought to be enjoyed while the getting is good.  Second, part of me thinks that I would really love to stay home and off the tenure track for a whole year.  The other part is very excited to get back to fighting form, and get the tenure ball rolling again… it’s seriously stalled for all the best reasons.  Will I love going back to work?  Won’t I?  One thing that’s for sure, some of the silliness at Midwestern U., the administrative battles, the pettiness, the self-aggrandizing puffery, all seems to be a lot less important now that there is a puppy in the Rottweiler brood.  Here’s hoping that Scrappy Doo keeps us grounded as I face the dreaded *Third Year Review* while Mr. Rottweiler tries to finish off his dissertation and enter the job market (hello, two body problem), and that we can do all of this while nurturing Scrappy Doo so that he can grow up to be a a normal not-too-nerdy kid– or at the very least, not a sociopath.

In December of 2008, after my first semester on the job, I did a little bit of a check in to see how things looked in the shake out.  I counted up all kinds of things.  Now seems like a good time to do the same, so without further ado, for 2010:

Number of students taught: 199.

Number of papers graded: 675. (some were short ones)

Number of quizzes graded: 1265.

Number of hours just lecturing: who knows– I can’t keep track any more.

Number of hours prepping classes: see above.

Number of hours spent on research:  surprisingly, a lot.

Number of peer-reviewed articles published: 1 (and one more forthcoming in 2011)

There have been sundry other things– grant applications, independent studies (add a couple more papers to that paper tally up there).  The lesson has been as the tenure track keeps a tickin’, the work load just gets heavier.  In theory, one’s capacity to shoulder the burden also increases.  That first semester, I was just happy to survive.  This year, I survived and managed to get more work into the pipeline, tweak my teaching, head to a few conferences, and… AND…speaking of taking on more….

Professor Rottweiler is whelping.  There is a puppy on the way, so the tenure track is about to intersect with the mommy track.  In the middle of the semester, I told my students that if I ran from the room with an urgent need to vomit, it was not because of anything they had said, but because of the phenomenon associated with my steadily thickening middle.  There are already numerous excellent blogs about surviving the tenure track as a new parent, so I will try not to divert the blog to all things parental, though I am told that the center of one’s universe inevitably reorients and one talks about parenting because one spends so much time parenting.  There are also all kinds of abysmal and scary studies out there of what motherhood does to one’s tenure prospects (according to the book Mama PhD have a baby within 5 years of finishing your PhD and there is a 38% higher likelihood of not being tenured).  Look around and it becomes obvious that there are far fewer tenured women and female full professors when compared to male-female PhD ratios.  And women aren’t the only ones affected by the introduction of small new people into the family…. so we will be juggling Mr. Rottweiler’s graduate studies and tenure track aspirations in addition to my own, particularly since once my maternity leave is up, Mr. Rottweiler will be primary childcare provider extraordinaire.

For now, I am concentrating on being both productive and, I suppose, reproductive.  The plan is to *finally* complete my book manuscript and start shopping it around prior to the pup’s arrival.  I must say I am looking forward to a full-time focus on the book.  Between that and small person preparations, I should be sufficiently distracted from the irritations of working within higher education (another lesson learned in year 3 of the tenure track– one’s patience with silliness really erodes… at first I thought I was irritable because of the pregnancy, but my senior colleagues all assure me that everyone gets ticked off in year 3– more on the sources of these irritations in future blogs, I suppose).  As of Monday, it will be me and the book manuscript ALL THE TIME.   But for today and through the weekend, it’s going to be cookie baking, eggnog drinking, napping, reading, and silly movie watching.  Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, and a productive (and reproductive, if you are into that kind of thing) new year!

Two week countdown.

December 5, 2010

I should be grading, but I thought I’d stray from the task at hand to point out that I have two weeks to go before this semester is behind me.  Many hurdles to jump in the next two weeks, but how good is it going to feel to have semester five behind me?  OK, back to the grading I go.

Clusterf*$#ed?

October 2, 2010

Avoid the clustering effect, they say.  Keep producing publications in a steady stream to demonstrate continued engagement in academia.  Avoid big clumps of publications on your CV.  Spread it all out.

I am staring at stacks and stacks of student papers that demand my grading attention.  There are stacks and stacks of them because I chose to neglect my grading in order to spend much of September working on more research-related things– mostly two articles (well, 1 1/2 since one of them is not a research article but a commentary).  I was sick of them and just wanted to finish them off and launch them into the Great Publication Pipeline (or is it a Vacuum?) so that I can have some ‘movement’ on my cv.   Get out the academic Metamucil.  Let’s get this stuff flowing like well-oiled machinery.

We are advised as newbie faculty to try to avoid the “clustering” or “clumping” effect where everything comes out within the same short time period, and there are large swathes of nothing going on between these publication bouts.  The thing is, I submitted pieces in a steady and regular-ish fashion.  I just have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL when it comes to how quickly they will be reviewed, returned, re-reviewed, approved, and queued for publication.  All I can do is be diligent about revisions when manuscripts come back to me and send polite queries to irritable editors who may or may not be able to speed things along.  Otherwise, I have to do as the serenity prayer (and Kurt Vonnegut) advises and have the grace not to fret about that which I have no power over.  I just hope that the senior faculty will consider this when I face the dreaded Third Year Review (coming to you this Spring, in a department near you!  See the angst-ridden junior faculty!  Will they or won’t they be renewed!)

And the better the journal, the longer the cycle from submission to publication.  Case in point, I first submitted an article to a respectable journal in March 2009.  This article underwent two rounds of revision, and was accepted after the first round, some time in January 2010.  It is slated to be published round about somewhere in the middle of 2011.  So that is just about 2 years to get an article in print.  Given that I am time-bound to go up for tenure in 2015-2016, that means that everything that will count towards my tenure must be submitted within the next two years.  Scary stuff, huh?

Thus, I have stuck to my guns as I proposed last month and opted to put off the teaching related activities in favor of keeping my nose to the research grindstone.  Did I mention I started a new research project this semester and submitted a large grant in August (with Schnauzer– two tails are definitely better than one), and that I want to finish my book manuscript by February?  I am not short of projects to keep catapulting into the publication pipeline/cesspit, but knowing my luck, if I’m lucky enough to get things accepted for publication, they will all appear within 6 months of each other…. more like a steaming pile of… well, you know, than a string of measured and steady pearls of wisdom.

Time to aim high, or low?

August 30, 2010

It is that time of year.  The semester starts off for many of us professorial-types.  Some of us may be full of noble aspirations for the classroom this year (I will write more interesting lectures; I will integrate a new service learning module into my course; I will never look like a slovenly sot in class; I will not crack lame jokes to which my students do not respond) while others (over here!) are settling into a year with lowered expectations (I will show more films in class; I will leave the lame jokes in; I will eliminate one writing assignment so I have a little less grading to do).

First, let me clarify that my lowered expectations are for myself, not my students.  I will still be holding them to the very high standards that make them narrow their eyes at me in rage.  Starting year 3 on the tenure-track, my lowered expectations for myself in the classroom stem from several realizations that have sunk in over time.  First and foremost, whether I spend 3 hours or 30 minutes preparing my class, the students seem not to be able to tell the difference.  They get as excited (or bored) by a lecture I sweated over for hours as they do over the ones I outline in 45 minutes.

Second, now at a point (temporarily) where there are no new preps (no new preps!) I am teaching courses with which I am more than passing familiar, and all of that cumulative preparation has paid off.  So no big changes, complete overhauls… the time has come to tweak, to finesse, and, though unrealistic, to perfect.  There will be some changes to my courses, but they are of the minor kind, requiring me to write two new lectures, to substitute a few readings for others, and to demand a wee bit more from my introductory students who I think are capable of producing more in my big ole lecture course.  And of course, to show an extra movie in each class (though I have recently learned from the very smart Schnauzer not to list these on the syllabus ahead of time and just surprise the students with them in class– it turns out they are more likely to come to class this way.  Who knew!)

The final realization that drives me to leave my courses as they are (more-or-less) is that in the third year I will face the dreaded gauntlet of the Third Year Review.  This is a common phenomenon at many institutions of higher learning in which junior faculty’s three years are evaluated in terms of their progress towards tenure.  In theory, my senior colleagues could decide that I am a miserable bet on the tenure track and choose not to renew my contract and send me packing.  In our case, the third year review also sets us up to be competitive candidates for sabbatical funds (pre-tenure sabbaticals are not guaranteed at Midwestern U.)  The take-home message of the impending review is that while teaching counts, research is what really matters.  I’d love to be tenured because of my teaching, but this is not the take home message of the institution for which I work.  So this year, I really have to put my nose to the ground, polish off promised manuscripts, and shove a couple of more things into the dreaded pipeline.  It will be dazzling.  It will be stupendous.  It will be utterly terrifying and exhausting, but hey, it’s what I signed up for… isn’t it?