Saturday, August 23, 2014

Orienting

So close! With less than one week to go before the semester commences, the house was (mostly) unpacked, my office was (mostly) in order, and syllabi were (almost) ready to go to the printer. Still so much to do: create a website, order lab equipment, organize my research team, and finalize the first week of class. I could have made significant progress in each of these areas, if not for the mandatory welcome party - three days of university orientation.


Let me be clear. I looked forward to meeting other new faculty and learning something about Jesuit education. (I'm woefully ignorant.) But few faculty - and really, few employees across the board - have fond memories of orientation. And the week before classes begin seemed (and still does seem) like the worst possible time to tear us away from actual preparation, in order to talk about preparation. Logistics rule the planning here, as there isn't another time when new faculty all will be in town and not otherwise occupied. That I understand. And I've taught my own classes before, so I should be able to make significant progress on course prep without orientation.

Yet here are all of the incredibly useful information I learned this week, which would have been even more helpful a month ago:

- How to write and assess student learning outcomes (and that this is mandatory)
- How to use the new online course management system, Desire2Learn (already rebranded  as Brightspace, though no one seems to know that)
- What to include in a syllabus (summary: everything you can think of, or you'll spend the  entire semester answering questions about policies)
- Who my assigned mentor is (another resource for preparing to move!)
- What the tech support center does and does not do/have (no, they don't loan out  PowerPoint remotes; thank goodness for Amazon two-day shipping!)
- How long it takes to get approved to edit your own website (many days, and I don't have  access yet)

In addition, some fun tidbits:

- The faculty union meetings (and its president) are VERY entertaining
- The Provost is new; he started on July 1st (repeat, repeat, repeat....)
- The library administration redirects absolutely every possible topic to the library, its resources, and new student study center (and I do know a lot about the library now)
- The library administration assumes that you come from an institution where you had to pay for interlibrary loan (poor souls who did)
- Time/priority management is on the agenda, but we will run out of time and not discuss it (yes, this happened)

My wish for more advanced notice notwithstanding, I must say that my university did a wonderful job of making us feel welcome and supported. This is a consistent theme here; not a day has gone by that hasn't included friendly offers for help, advice, and/or lunchtime companionship. Even though this often presents a jarring contrast to my previous job environment, the transition couldn't have been more smooth for me. In addition to the move, setting up, and orientation, I even managed to draft 95% of a manuscript this month!

So, am I 'oriented?" Let's see. I know where the campus coffee shops are, and their employees know me. I've been extremely productive in my office - both course prep and manuscript writing have enjoyed significant progress there. My syllabi have been printed, typos and all. (I managed to misspell the first and last names of one TA. Can you beat that?) Still plenty to do before 9:00 am on Monday, but I'm feeling pretty good.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

In the Middle

It looms. My first semester as a professor starts in ten days. TEN DAYS!! Very exciting, and daunting. The past three weeks have gone something like this:

- Wake up between 6:00 and 6:30
- Run 3-4 miles
- Pack/unpack/clean OR campus for teaching prep
- Run errands
- Leisurely dinner at home, with wine
- Re-watch Frasier (we're currently on Season 5)
- Bed by 10:00

Oh, what a lovely break it has been. I have worked consistently throughout, by editing manuscript drafts and submitting one to a new journal, as well as keeping up with email and conference calls. But I don't have a strict schedule, or hard deadlines for these projects. I even managed to spend an afternoon at the park and public pool just around the corner from my new residence. It has been a marvelous interlude. (Although interestingly, I haven't noticed feeling more rested in the mornings. Something to investigate.)

And then, there is the semester. Like many new assistant professors in the sciences, I have spent the past two years focused almost entirely on research. There was some clinical work, in the context of a research trial, and several guest lectures in classrooms and training seminars. The year before that, I was on clinical internship (i.e., full-time clinical work), with a part-time research elective mixed in. But the last time I prepared a syllabus and coordinated online learning management was more than three years ago. (And the online system is one I've never used.) Plus, I didn't have TAs back then. TAs at my new institution are advanced undergraduates who volunteer their time; although having assistance will be lovely, there is a lot of management to do, including learning what I can and cannot expect them to do for me.

As emails flood in about orientation schedules and start-of-semester events, there's also the anticipatory concern about effectively managing my time.* I'm at a primarily undergraduate institution with a emphases on teaching AND getting students involved in research. (Oh yeah, and keeping up my own scholarly pursuits.) Sounds great, but getting the latter set up is slow going. I started the process of acquiring equipment for my lab in May, and I only just received the purchase request for my computers. I can set up online studies, of course, pending IRB approval. When might I be able to start running live participants? Your guess is as good as mine.

In terms of teaching, I've slowly chipped away at course prep since the beginning of June. So where am I now, ten days before classes start? 

- Syllabi = 90% set; I still need learning objectives and a final reading list
- First two weeks of lecture slides = 85% complete
- Classroom activities = ....
- Online course coordination = ....
- TA management = in progress
- IRB applications = figuring out the process is first

There is a lot to do. I have no doubt that I will get it done, but my beloved "break" is officially over. I'll be excited to see you, Summer 2015.

*Incidentally, no one has ever been as excited as I am to get a dual monitor setup! More to come on this.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Life. Really.

Balance. I admit that I have had little, if any, balance between work and "life" over the past 20 years. (I'm in my early 30s. I started young.) If anything, work has been my life. And not in the sense that I'm an incredibly productive workaholic. But recently, I have had to recognize that work accounts for the overwhelming majority of variance in my identity. For example, a new colleague recently commented on the progress of her DIY home renovations and how enjoyable the process has been. My internal response was How on earth does she have time for that? She's only been in her job two years - doesn't she feel pressure to spend more time on her work?

There was absolutely no negative judgment in my reaction. Just awe. And I remained in this state of mind for several weeks. Fortunately, I eventually recognized that there is something unnatural about my response. Not only because it indicates an absence of balance, but also because it is completely out of touch with social reality. Plenty of people  - including academics - have time for and do their own home repairs! They also read novels, play instruments, and go to the theater! And, most important of all, they take vacations. Real ones! Away from work and visiting family. 

These all are activities that I enjoy, and would love to spend more time on. But I don't. Particularly scary is that I haven't taken a real vacation (for more than two days) in several years. Living to work is great when work goes well (e.g., when I get to start my independent career), but as many of you have experienced, it's soul-crushing when it does not. And then what?

My next response: Home repairs, novels, vacations, etc. are what sustain you when work doesn't go well. You need to make time for them. This is by no means a revelation to anyone but me. I'm a health psychologist, and I would be the first to guide a patient toward such an insight, because I know that it's true. Yet somehow, I was the exception. I spent the past two years in a major city and did not take advantage of it. Partly because I do love my work, partly because of my particular circumstances, partly because I lived in that city when I was younger and took advantage of it then. But I missed out on seeing it through the eyes of an adult. I won't make that mistake again.

So. For someone like me, what does "life" actually mean? Is it simply "whatever I enjoy doing when I'm not working?" It's much more than that, I'm sure, but I'll start there. I just moved to a new, smaller city, which afforded two excellent opportunities: 

(1) A full week of not working, because there was that much packing and unpacking to do (which continues), and
(2) A chance to appreciate a new location, which I know little about. And it's gorgeous! Every day, I marvel at how beautiful it is (see below), and how no one tells you that when they describe it. I won't make that mistake, either.


Treehouse in the park behind my new residence.
View from a  nearby shopping center.

This is your life moment of the week: This is your LIFE. And it's more than your work.