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.


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!

Begging your indulgence…

September 15, 2008

It’s a very rainy Sunday.  I’m feeling a little water-logged, but otherwise, on a comparatively even keel if we take my last post as an indicator of my general mood.  Since Tuesday, former advisers have been called, advice sought and yes… inquiries sent out about other job possibilities.  New friends have been made, potentially, research collaborators found, and, most importantly, old friends and all important life mates have made their presence very known.  Professor Rottweiler, despite her panic (barking even) is going to stay put for at least another year or two.

The newness of my current city definitely compounds the issues at work.  I don’t have local friends and so I am not processing at a normal pace.  It leaves me a little more overwhelmed than usual… a little less able to cope.  Generally not a good thing.  On Tuesday, I was partly miffed because of technical difficulties (these are all still difficult… as the week has gone on, my colleagues and I are learning just how cheap Midwestern U. is– they don’t shell out for advanced subscriptions so we what we have is typically the cheap interface that tends to be the least user-friendly versions of whatever service we are offered).  Tuesday was also generally sucky because I gave a crappy lecture.  At least it felt crappy.  It was the first day that I moved from conceptual framing lectures to content-heavy explanatory lectures, if you get what I mean.  From “welcome to the wonderful world of anthropology” to “here is what you need to know about biological anthropology.”

I was particularly nervous about this first unit as it is not my strong suit.  As I have started preparing my lectures for this module, I feel like I am relearning it.  And yet, I know that I know it well enough for the purposes of the intro course.  Still, as my intro class is the big prerequisite for all of the upper level anthropology classes, be they biological anthropology, archaeology or cultural anthropology, I feel some sense of accountability for laying a firm enough foundation that my colleagues will not think I am a nincompoop when my students get funneled into their classes.  Thus, because I was nervous, for the first time I down-loaded a power point lecture from the publisher’s website, and I tweaked it to represent my own approach.  I also wrote out three single-spaced pages of notes in a too small font size (11 point!).

When I got to lecture, someone had dimmed the lights, which I didn’t notice until I was up there at the podium with the horde of 93 staring at me as I squinted at my notes.  I delivered the lecture in a stilted, disjointed and patchy fashion.  When I looked up, there were 20 minutes left to go.  I took two questions, talked about the last assignment, and then dismissed them early.  Overall, I felt quite crappy about the whole thing.  On my way home, I left sad messages for my old adviser, my friends, and two messages for my husband.

The next day, I started to think about what went wrong.  I wish I had the clarity of mind to have this conversation with myself just after the class, as it would have saved me some panic and tears, but I am reconciling myself to the fact that my introspection abilities are dialed down for now.  I realized that the room had been dark, that the print on my notes had been too small, and that the power point presentation, though serviceable, had not been mine.  Usually, when I design a power point presentation, the slides serve as prompts for me.  With someone else’s presentation, I was delivering someone else’s lecture.  Though I had thought this would make me more secure with less familiar material, it was more important for me to make the lecture my own.  Thus, on Thursday I threw the ready-made power points in the virtual “garbage” and crafted my own lecture presentation (on the subject of acclimatization and adaptation) and wouldn’t you know it… it went fine.  They laughed at my jokes.  They raised their hands when I asked questions.  They even asked their own questions.  Then they left the class and took my on-line quiz (thank you, D2L) with relatively few blow-ups.

I did learn that the quiz was clearly not hard enough (the grade distribution was nowhere near a bell curve), but I will pump up the difficulty level on the next one.  As for the job front, I still hanker to be in a department with other anthropologists, but my adviser warned me that I should only really apply for a position that would be significantly better than the one I have, and, as it shouldn’t get out that I am on the market, I should really only apply for positions that are actually going to consider me.

After a day of some leg work, she and I determined that the three positions I had been eyeing were not within my capacity to get for a variety of reasons.  One really wanted a more senior person, another had a specific topic for which they were seeking, and a third, though they did not say so in the advertisement, really was unwilling to hire an Americanist (like me and 80% of the folks who graduate from anthropology PhD programs).  At first, hearing this made me feel sad and trapped.  But after a few hours, I realized that I was glad to have a job at all, and a tenure track one at that.

On Friday, I also finally met another friend of a friend who lives locally and works at another university in town.   In addition to a pleasant afternoon and nice food, she left me with some insight into how one can approach teaching the large service classes which are not really on one’s own area of expertise.  Though she admitted it may not be the healthiest of attitudes, she copped to not caring as much and being less invested and thus, able to get through preparation with less of a time and energy investment.  “Think about it,” she told me, “when you teach your area of expertise, you spend so much time trying to plan the perfect syllabus with the right texts, but when it isn’t yours, you spend less time tinkering with it.”

These words in mind, I headed back home and found that an email had surfaced from another local friend of a friend who I had met a few weeks back.  She hadn’t emailed me since we had met for dinner, and being my paranoid self, I had assumed that she hated me on sight and was avoiding me, but it turns out (silly Rottweiler!) she’s just been busy.  She sent me a detailed email full of tips on places to shop, exercise, and visit (my own city guide) and also invited me to participate in her research workshop.  She also passed my name on to one of her collaborators, an anthropologist I have an abiding respect for– and so her email was followed by an email from him with an invitation to coffee or lunch.

All around, it made me feel less adrift and more optimistic about possibilities for meaningful scholarly exchange.  I keep repeating that I have an abounding fear that having finished grad school and moved on to the professional world, I will suddenly turn stupid.  Of course, as I have been moaning and whimpering all week, I received many concerned and reassuring emails and phone calls from Mr. Rottweiler and other dear friends (HAPPY BIRTHDAY C!)  And to top it all off, on Friday night I was at home chipping away at some work and thinking may be life at Midwestern U. wasn’t totally destined to be one big steaming pile of dog crap…. when someone came knocking on my door.  Mr. Rottweiler flew all the way from his East Coast abode to surprise me just for a two day trip!  I can tell you, my tail was a waggin’ and I was one happy rottweiler after that.

The visit hammered home what I have already known: that it’s hard to adjust to a new and unfamiliar job, a new city (ask me how many parking tickets I’ve gotten since moving here), no friends, a long distance relationship, and everything familiar, dear and precious that formed the center of my life these past few years being suddenly very far away.  I’m not sure how I am going to get centered, and it may get harder before it gets easier, but the “downs” I experienced this week were appreciated more when compared to the “ups.”  It may be a rocky ride, but a ride it will be.