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.

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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!

I am having an exceedingly difficult time figuring out a way to start this blog update– in part, it’s the intense fatigue from all computer-related activity.  I’m sick of staring at my laptop and my desktop and just want to lie down and stare at the sky/ceiling/underside of whatever large piece of furniture I can find to hide under.  It’s been an excruciating week what with a proposal deadline to meet, two classes to prep, and many assignments to think up/write/design.  The proposal especially took it out of me.  Those damn things always do.  As I communed with my computer for hours and hours, eschewing natural light, sleep and meals involving plates, my thoughts would frequently come back to the same futile places.  Namely:

  • “Ummm, is it even possible to finish all this work in time?”
  • “Why didn’t I plan ahead and get this done earlier?”
  • “Am I even writing English anymore?”
  • “I am so tired; can’t I sleep now?”
  • “What happens if I DON’T finish all of this stuff?”
  • “Isn’t it just going to get worse?”

While I did manage to pound it all out, I can’t even guess at what suffered in terms of quality.  I put my proposal in my chair’s paws (Top Dawg) on Wednesday afternoon so he could take it home and review it before signing off on it.  He found one typo and proclaimed the proposal otherwise “fine” in a very dry and unrevealing tone.  That’s all I’ve got in the way of feedback for now.

I knew better than to expect my “A” game in a week where volume of work is so heavy, but nonetheless, it is a little embarrassing to get caught producing things which are not up to one’s usual standards.  Case in point, I administered my second on-line quiz this week (no thanks to you D2L– you continue to be an overwhelmingly RIDICULOUS program and I have my eye on you).  Because I wrote the questions and set it up the day before it went live, I was rushed and didn’t proofread.

A couple of typos (three!) is not a big deal, but I fracked up royally by setting the answer key incorrectly on one of the questions, resulting in several (ok, three) panicked students contacting me.  It’s all fixed and amended, but embarrassing, no?  I wish I was presenting myself in a more polished fashion, one in which I could create an impression (illusion?) of infallibility.  There goes that wish…

But all that aside, I am just so very glad that the week is over, that I am still standing (though I hurt, really, and am worried that treating myself this way is not good for my health).  When the assistant chair wandered in and tried to make small-talk with me on Wednesday, I realized that the sound of my own voice was very alien to me as I’d barely spoken to anyone for two days (barring phone conversations with the ever supportive Mr. Rottweiler, and an excited C. who shared the news of her engagement over the phone with me on Monday night– HUZZAH!).  I had definitely barely spoken to anyone in person for two days.

On Thursday night, as I staggered out of my afternoon class and started dealing with worried quiz takers, I decided to see if Schnauzer and her husband were free for dinner and drinks.  She was happy that I crawled out of my muck of work, as we seem to be on track with a regular habit of going out on Thursday nights, and she thought we wouldn’t make it this week as a result of my zombified state and upcoming travel.  (I caught a 5:10 AM flight and am on the plane right at this very moment).  Though tired, I wanted to speak to someone just to feel like a social animal again (no offense to my computers– but I was sick of being a cyborg).  We had a nice dinner which, incidentally, ended abruptly when some genius sitting at the bar tried to light a cigarette with their friend’s pepper spray, which they mistook for a lighter.  Coughing and sputtering with our lips and eyes on fire, we stumbled out of the restaurant and into the night.  So my fellow academic denizens, I am tired, wrung out, a little chagrined, and, well, slightly peppery.