Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 2015 Wrap-Up

It's that time. The very end of a calendar year, when 95% of people you know will look back on the year and set goals for the next. I look forward to reading all of the academic blog posts about 2015 progress.* I've charted my productivity once or twice per month this  year, so I don't intend for this to be a simple re-hash. As many have observed, blogging has the advantage of allowing for true reflection - as you put your thoughts about previous events on screen, we see patterns or points that we don't see in the moments that events occur. So here is my 2015 reflection.

Productivity Highlight
Due to the variability in publication timelines, I had eight articles published this year. Thus, looking at my CV, 2015 has been my most productive year by far.** But behind the positive outcome, there are several years of frustration; as I look back, I feel the echo of these experiences. These papers written and revised between 2011 and 2015, and were accepted between 2013 and 2015. So they reflect three different affiliations and phases of my career (internship, postdoc, and tenure-track positions). I received, and continue to receive, excellent training mentorship in all of the skills relevant to my job. This is evident from the ability I now have to design, conduct, and publish an intervention study in one calendar year. 

But as we know, getting to that point can be difficult. There is a steep learning curve on scientific writing and publishing, and limited opportunities until you get a firm handle on collecting your own data. As a trainee, the transition from one institution to another presents a range of challenges, even for the most motivated researcher. New mentors and labmates (some of whom are now quite junior, which is novel), and new responsibilities. Importantly, many of these responsibilities have nothing to do with getting your own publications out. Although this is your highest and most pressing priority (for securing a permanent job as quickly as possible), this can seem like an afterthought to supervisors. Many of us understand the intense frustration of this situation. You also may be dealing with completely unfamiliar data sets, some of which come with very little institutional memory for procedural details (due to trainee graduation/turnover). The freedom of a tenure-track position offers sweet relief, and the space to reconnect with genuine love for the work itself.

When I look back at 2015, I see the fruits of my internal labor - the culmination of my struggle to accept a lack of independence and make the best of a difficult situation for me. As noted, I received fantastic training, which I can now fully appreciate and put to use. In addition to the papers that came out this year, I also had several papers and book chapters accepted,*** submitted several more, and made my first foray into the world of federal grant pursuit. Of note, work in each of these areas has involved collaboration with former supervisors. It's wonderful to see so much time and effort finally pay off.

Other Highlights
This year included many other positives:
  • I have an amazing group of students who have enjoyed their own achievements this year - acceptance to several medical schools, their own data collection, poster presentations, and internal grant applications, and the development of new and exciting skills. 
  • I did my first two radio interviews about my research: Super Human Radio and RadioMD.
  • I've begun to collaborate with faculty in other departments and at other institutions, and there are many exciting opportunities on the horizon. 
  • I completed the first half of an NIH-sponsored training program in cardiovascular medicine. Though this program, I learned a ton and met an incredible group of young faculty from all over the country. (I also got a two-week, all-expenses-paid Brooklyn experience. And I get another one in June!)
  • I reviewed grants for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Komen cancer affiliate, and I'll do this again in January.
  • I was invited to join a faculty writing accountability group at my institution, and I've enjoyed many benefits of this experience. 
  • Both #AcWriMo and #AcWriAdv reminded me that I love to write, and that writing is better with a community. (And I was featured on one of my favorite blogs, Stylish Academic!)
This is your life moment of the year: It was a great one. Now let's make 2016 great.

*Even though the end of the regular year is only the midpoint of the academic's year, so we have a different type of calendar-year reflection.
**Not that this Google list is correct in terms of dates. Dates here are when the articles were first available online; "published" = out in print version of journal.
***And some rejected, of course. I actually don't know how many of each.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

#AcWriMo Wrap-Up

Sadly, AcWriMo 2015 is overDelighted to report that it was another successful and supportive month, through some setbacks. As noted, I set both product and process goals; the latter was particularly helpful this time (i.e., scheduling writing for two hours per day on three days per week, one of these days at a coffee shop). My main product goal was to make progress on two manuscripts with undergraduate students, as those can get lost in the shuffle. 

Using the 2x3x(1/coffeeshop) method, I found myself more enthusiastic about these projects. I even snuck in some unscheduled writing on these, which I posted on using #unexpectedacwri. One stalled due to data analysis problems (as I want the student to lead that component), but I ended AcWriMo with a complete, nearly-polished draft of the other. My goal is to submit that one before Christmas. I also edited a paper/sent it to coauthors, applied for and received an internal grant for Intersession (January), and made a good deal of progress on an external grant application. And I reread Paul Silva's excellent How to Write a Lot, which doubled by resolve. I connected with some great people along the way, including @meganehatch, @llmunroe, and @EllieMackin. The mutual support of the community members really is what makes this event work so well. Thank you to everyone who participated, and to PhD2Published for hosting!

Admittedly, I did not truly tackle my huge revise-and-resubmit invitation, due in late January. I sat down to plan the revisions and realized that it's going to take more deep thinking than I anticipated (plus some additional analyses). So that one is on deck for the next few weeks.

Luckily, AcWriAdv is here! Via Twitter, I learned that a group of academics picked up on November 29th and will continue until December 24th (in "celebration" of Advent). The group is much smaller than the AcWriMo group, but following the hashtag is just as beneficial. This week, I made tables for the nearly-there manuscript, added to grant content, and got some much-needed feedback on a grant aims page. Goals for this coming week (finals week) are to finalize the manuscript and revise the aims, in the midst of grading. And I'll meet with my student to plan next steps for the second manuscript.

What's next? My institution has all of January off for Intersession.... perhaps I'll keep the ball rolling with #AcWriInt?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#AcWriMo and Writing Accountability - Nearly There!

A little more than halfway there! It's Day 22 of Academic Writing Month. As I've shared, I'm tracking progress for the blog Stylish Academic and updating on Twitter. I'm also participating in a faculty writing accountability group at my institution. With all of this external accountability, its about time for some deeper-than-140-characters reflection on progress thus far.

As someone who has been moderately productive to date, my interest in external accountability sources is more for the camaraderie than for the kick in the pants. (Though the kick definitely does help!) Specific to AcWriMo, breaking down my goals into concrete product and process steps has been particularly helpful. I teach three courses per semester and each course three days per week, so writing tends to happen in fits and starts, rather than regularly. And it's much too easy for me to prioritize my own work over collaborative work for which I'm not the PI. Probably not that unusual, but it holds up progress on multiple projects - particularly projects that involve undergraduate student co-authors. (Because those do exist.)

This year, I was in a good position to move these projects to the forefront. I submitted an NIH grant and major revisions to a manuscript in October, so I had cleared the way for the more careful thought needed toward the beginning of a manuscript. And I committed - to myself, my writing group, and the AcWriMo community - that I would make progress on two student co-authored manuscripts (in addition to my higher-priority work). Here is where we stand.

The bad news. This month started out well. I set aside time for writing both during the week and on the weekend, and I made it to a coffee shop during the first week. Then I was out of town for a conference; worked a bit while I was there, but picked up some awful throat-based plague from the airplane.* Came home to a raging throat/head cold that resulted in losing my voice for almost a week. In the middle of that week, I had longer-term medical issues to handle. (All VERY unusual for me - I'm pretty healthy!) So my process goal (two hours of writing per day on three days per week, at a coffee shop one day per week) was heavily disrupted during one of only two full weeks during the month. In addition, one of my student co-authors was supposed to make progress on our manuscript while I was gone. He ran into some roadblocks and ended up with no forward movement. That's life - we can't stop the unexpected. Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that flexibility wins the day.

The good news. On the bright side, I submitted an internal grant proposal and an IRB application this month, and my revision was accepted. Moreover, I've accomplished something that I've long struggled to make work for me. Many of us like (and are most productive when we have) large chunks of time to write. Makes sense, as this allows us to become immersed in the project and focused on its needs. With shorter time frames, we barely get our heads back into the project before we have to move on. But as my graduate mentor always told me, the most productive scholars are those who find ways to maximize 15-30 minute blocks for writing. I believed him, though I never saw myself as capable of achieving this zen-like writing flow.

Excited about 45 minutes of
unplanned writing.
In the past two weeks, however, I've done this several times; 30 minutes here, 45 minutes there, 15 minutes on data analysis if need be. I find that this actually minimizes the amount of time necessary to get my head back into the project. The more familiarity I have with the material, the less time it takes to orient myself, and the more I can get done in small chunks. Importantly, I'm also more enthusiastic about the project than I was when I procrastinated on it. This approach has allowed me to come close to finishing the first draft of a student co-authored manuscript, despite interruptions in my schedule. 

Finally, I had the opportunity to give a research presentation to the faculty at my institution yesterday. Preparing for, delivering, and answering questions during this event pulled some threads of my research program into sharper focus. And it seemed to go very well, which got me even more excited about finishing the semester strong.

Toward the AcWriMo finish line. My goals are to continue with my 2/2/2h + 2-at-a-coffee-shop approach for the final week of AcWriMo, focused on finishing that manuscript draft and progressing on a grant application. The second manuscript might have to move back down the priority list if the student isn't able to make progress; I'll help him avoid this as much as I can. Looking forward to the final update in just over a week.

Happy writing!

*Not surprising. Any time you fly to Orlando, you end up on a plane with sick children going to Disney World.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#AcWriMo 2015!

It's that timeNovember means Academic Writing Month (or #AcWriMo on Twitter). November is a difficult time for academic writing; we're in the thick of the semester, many of us have academic advisees who need attention, and many of us travel for Thanksgiving.* In solidarity, #AcWriMo allows academics to set goals, share them with each other online, encourage each other during the month, and hold each other accountable for progress. (Great timing with the writing group topic I've been posting on!)

Importantly, many participants set both product and process goals, or they emphasize the latter. The most difficult part about writing - especially when we're busy - is to stay in the habit. Setting and sticking to process goals dramatically increases the likelihood of meeting product goals. In contrast, focusing on the product could mean several very late nights at the end of the semester or exhausting bursts of writing that leave little energy for other commitments. As the best have repeated, writing consistently is a healthier (and better) way to get work done.

Weekend work at a local
coffee shop. Farmer casual today.
My #AcWriMo 2015. I was honored to be asked for an #AcWriMo-related guest post on one of my favorite blogs, Stylish Academic. (If you're an academic who likes fashion, this site is for you!) There, I describe why I love this event and what it did for me last year. In short, I was SUPER productive without killing myself. But please read the whole post for the full story, including this year's goals. As of today, I met a process goal and one product goal that I added at the last minute. Great way to start the month! (Above is visual evidence, in my weekend wear.)

More to come as I update on my progress throughout the month. If you haven't signed up yet, please join us for a great month!

*I have given up traveling during this very short break. Last year, I found myself refreshed for the end of the semester after spending time on both work and relaxation. I highly recommend taking the break, if you can.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Writing Accountability Follow Up, and Living the Dream

Follow-up on writing accountability. Last time, I wrote in anticipation of our first faculty writing accountability group meeting at my institution. As we have faculty of all levels and backgrounds participating, this session involved each member introducing him/herself, a research project or program, and goals for participating. I really enjoyed listening to my colleagues explain their interests and what they want help with during the program. (I'm a psychologist, so no surprise that I take pleasure in hearing about others' thought processes.)

Interestingly, I noticed that the facilitators described the accountability process as provoking "guilt and shame," which motivates us via avoidance of negative outcomes/negative reinforcement. The science certainly supports this statement, though there is a flip side. I study social comparison, which is inherent in any social activity; I've learned that some people respond positively to negative social experiences (i.e., those that induce guilt and shame), and others don't. And some people respond positively at certain times and negatively at other times. So in my partner- and group-based research, I encourage a mix of tough love, empathy, and positive reinforcement. (The latter actually works best for increasing the frequency of behavior, but the reward has to come quickly.)

As a clinician, I take the role of a cheerleader - I celebrate your success as often as possible (and encourage you to do the same, within reason). You should want to avoid disappointing me, but only if you're equally disappointed in yourself. If not, you won't keep up the behavior without my response. So I'm taking the same approach to my writing group/partner; I'll adjust if it seems as though my partner responds better to tough love.*

We're partnered up based on similar interests and goals, and we'll meet with our partners each week to check in. My partner is a professor of physical therapy who wants some support through finishing a large-scale and long-term research synthesis; I asked her to keep me on track and focused in the face of many, many active projects. Once per month, we'll meet with the whole group to report on our progress and discuss writing more broadly. If all goes well, there will be a writing retreat in the future. So overall, great start! More to come as we hold each other accountable.

Living the dream. In the last week or so, I had two extremely positive experiences related to my academic career. The first came almost at random. It was 7:30 on Monday morning; I was already on campus (as I am on all teaching days), with three classes, office hours, and grant writing ahead of me. (Not unique in this field, for sure.) I went down the hall to make coffee, and as I returned to my office, I looked at my little corner of campus: the name plate on my door, the bulletin board across from my office that displays my research and related news, my lab down the hall. It occurred to me, for the first time in a while, that I have what I worked so hard to get for many years. 

For the better part of a decade, I've worked 60+ hours per week and not taken real vacations, in pursuit of a secure academic position. I've put off some life goals in order to focus on establishing myself in the new position. There always is more to do and always another hurdle (tenure next). But I stopped to appreciate what I've built, and to be grateful for the ability to do what I love. I made it. Not everyone can say that. It was a spontaneous and wonderful moment, and since then, I've tried to return to that mental space whenever I've found myself in need of a boost.

I also had the chance to share this appreciation with the person most responsible for making it happen (other than me) - my graduate mentor. He was in town for the day to do some consulting work, and we met on my campus to catch up and discuss our ongoing projects. I got to give him a tour, show him my space, and walk him through a typical day. This incredibly successful person with a brilliant mind and a prestigious position gave me a chance to work for him ten years ago, and I got to show him the fruits of his labor. It was nerdy, exciting, and humbling all at the same time. 

This is your life moment of the week: There's always something to complain about. Stay connected to what you've accomplished and where you came from; it can remind you why you work as hard as you do.

*This is whole concept is much more complicated than I indicate here; perhaps fodder for a future post on this site or my research blog (

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Faculty Writing Accountability at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution

Writing. It's critical to our success as academics, no matter where we are employed. And we all wish that we had more time for it, no matter how little time our universities or departments allocate to other activities. The pressure to produce has many documented negative outcomes, including poor sleep, mental health problems, and in some cases, data forgery. Though nowhere is the tension between writing and not-writing more acute than at primarily undergraduate institutions that have high standards for research. (And often also have very high standards for service.)

To be fair, undergraduate institutions often have a broad definition of "research" - not just producing papers or books, but conference presentations, supervision of student thesis projects, and generally involving undergraduates in the process. But many still emphasize papers or books as "real" productivity; these seem to get more attention (both inside and outside the institution), and they are necessary to be competitive for external funding.

So how do faculty with teaching loads of 3+ per semester make time for writing? Write in the morning, write every day, close your door, say no, etc. are well-known and well-used. But these are not always enough to ensure productivity when you have 100+ students each semester who all think they're paying for personal attention. Consequently, writing accountability groups have become popular: partners or small groups agree to produce written work by a deadline and push each other to stay on task. These groups tap into social processes known to work for other behavior change efforts (weight loss, increasing physical activity). 

For example, large-scale endeavors such as Shut Up and Write Tuesdays (#SUWT) allow participants from all over the world to write simultaneously, check in, and receive encouragement from others in the same boat. So you get opportunities for support, reinforcement, and social comparison all rolled into one. Similarly, there is a positive pressure via public commitment of goals. In smaller groups, the added benefit is that someone is supposed to hold your feet to the fire and not take any excuses for lack of productivity. 

But how does "holding someone accountable" actually work? I use all of these social principles in my interventions for health behavior change, with success thus far. But one challenge is helping partners/group members to be effective disciplinarians, without discouraging the participants they're supposed to he helping. To date, I've taught research participants to communicate with each other about what is and is not helpful. Some people want and respond well to a Jillian Michaels approach, whereas others need a softer touch. I've encouraged my participants to reflect on this and communicate their needs to their partners/groups, which seems like a decent place to start. 

But decades of psychology research show us that we don't always know what's best for us, or what will be most effective for instigating change. So how can we select the most effective accountability team for enhancing our productivity? I ponder this question in response to our upcoming writing group at my primarily undergraduate institution. Faculty from different disciplines, at different career levels, with different goals will try to help each other accomplish something over the next few months.

The group coordinators had the insight to ask for our preferences for partners, and I found myself unsure of how to respond. Would someone inside or outside my discipline provide the most useful feedback? Someone equally junior, or much more senior? Although I've been fairly successful so far, I know that I can learn a lot from those who have struggled; but what is it, specifically, that I need from them? What should I share about me that would be relevant for other members?

My current support network. I have an ongoing accountability agreement with a good friend from graduate school; we are immensely helpful to each other, but this happens in fits and starts, and I'd like to be more consistent about it. I'm starting another agreement with a friend from grad school whom I greatly admire, and I'm all about the positive-outcome social comparisons. I also have the privilege of writing alongside some excellent scholars on Twitter, whose success and encouragement motivate me (@iladylayla, @ATRWibben, @josephsonjyl). All of this has taught me that my ideal partner would be consistent, encouraging, and not take any excuses.

This is your life moment of the week: Our first writing accountability meeting at my institution is tomorrow. I need to prepare! Very much looking forward to it and to opportunities to reflect on group processes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On to Year Two

It's that timeIt's tough to believe that a full year has gone by already. The fall semester starts in five days, so it's time to finish up syllabi and make sure the semester research plan is in order. I'm teaching two sections of my regular course (Abnormal Psychology) and a new course for me (Personality & Individual Differences; P-ID). I'm hoping that I'll find myself in a comfortable rhythm with Abnormal and that I'll be able to devote a bit more attention to P-ID. 

The latter is not only new, but intriguing. It's based on the question of "what makes people different?" Meaning that we can cover anything that differs between people, which is A LOT. In addition to the typical personality-related material (theory, testing), I've added content related to gender, body image, optimism, health, regulatory focus, and stress. Then students get to choose constructs that are not covered by the syllabus and present them to the class. The goal is to discuss as many areas of interest as possible, and also to contrast the P-ID approach with a within-person process approach. We'll see how this goes over with undergraduates. No Twitter and no tech tools this time. Though I look forward to using those with my Health Psychology class in the Spring :)

Also, progress. In addition to preparing for courses, there is the necessary "tenure track progress update" to make sure that I'm on target for demonstrating a positive trajectory. It's this piece that I find myself wondering about these days. I have another self-report due at the beginning of October, so I get to start building my case, rather than just summarizing what I've done this year. 

I met the goals I set for myself last year, which seems like a good start. I have real course evaluations and they're pretty good; I have more students participating in research and I'm moving from internal to external grant proposals. That's what I've got so far. More to come when I figure out the rest.

The fun stuff. But before I worry too much about my official paperwork, I'm taking a page out of Nyasha Junior's book and giving myself some off-the-official-record awards. For 2014-2015 (year one), I give myself the following:

10. Most internal grant proposals by a first-year faculty member
9. Best effort to use social media in the classroom (Twitter, "the dress")
8. Most enthusiastic about teaching research methods in every class
This morning's iced coffee.
7. Best attendance at first-year faculty mentoring events (100%, y'all)
6. Best smothering of automatic laughter in response to ridiculous comments
5. Best food at lab meetings
4. Best effort to teach through laryngitis during the first week of class
3. Most trips to the campus Starbucks for 50-cent coffee refills
2. Most recorded "no" responses (to requests for service) from a first-year faculty member
1. Least fearful of speaking up and getting involved (among junior faculty)

Thanks to Nyasha (@NyashaJunior) for this great idea, and to Kevin Gannon (@TheTatooedProf) for his fantastic and welcoming Academic New Year's Resolution post. 

This is your life moment of the week: We all could use a good year, so my goal is to focus on the positive :) And to take a damn vacation.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Taking Back My Summer

Noteworthy progress. In my last post, I described my failure to protect summer vacation/personal time in favor of a long list of commitments. Although most of these commitments are productive and/or enjoyable, their combined requirements do not leave a great deal of time for much-needed relaxation and not working. I'm happy to report that the tide has turned somewhat, just before the next wave of the workload hits. How did this happen, and how can I maintain balance for the remainder of the summer?

Blogging (and otherwise disclosing) helps. Once I acknowledged that I had only myself to blame for my increasing (rather than decreasing) stress, I stepped back and looked at the calendar. I took stock of what I had accomplished to that point in the summer, and how much time was left to work on the rest. I felt relief from realizing that the balance looked much better than I expected. I also asked myself what really needs to be finished this summer, by when, and whether these goals are realistic; what will I lose if I fall behind on X? Finally, I looked ahead to the 2015-2016 academic year and accepted that I cannot take on any additional commitments until next summer. And I started saying no in advance.

Travel helps. My reality-testing process received the assistance of two recent road trips. One was a four-day, combined work/leisure trip. This split left me able to feel good about getting some work done with collaborators in addition to not working and catching up with graduate school friends. Importantly, I made the 2.5-hour commutes alone, so I had time to myself to think and space out as needed. I came back tired from a strange sleep schedule, but more relaxed than I have been in a while. 

Downtown Ludlow
The second trip was more hectic: PA --> VT --> MA --> PA in four days, celebrating a wedding and an engagement. The wedding was lovely and afforded several unique opportunities. I'm not a country girl, and getting away to rural VT was a new experience. Actual country stores that are not operated by Cracker Barrel? I just wish I'd had more time to explore; I was there for less than 24 hours and it rained most of the time. But I also got to reconnect with more graduate school friends, which always leaves me feeling grounded. Then on to MA. As I'm the matron of honor* for the engaged couple (wedding in August of 2016), and as I live several states away from the action, I made an effort to fulfill some role expectations during the trip. As far as I can tell, it worked out well for everyone!
Our resort in Ludlow, VT
During this four-day excursion, I did not work. I checked email only sporadically. I responded only to urgent messages. Very unusual for me. But very healthy. And nothing went wrong without my replies. 

This is your life moment of the week. I returned to work today feeling less stressed than I have in a while, and I was able to complete tasks such as cleaning out my email inbox and writing this post. I also met with our Office of Sponsored Programs about a grant and upgraded another short trip I'm about to take. And I'll end the workday with an exercise class that makes me feel great. This is more like the summer I had planned.

*Matron? Really? Sounds so old....

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

First Summer as Faculty: Planning Gone Wrong

Failure. I've written a lot about success this year. It's time for a confession about failure.

As a new faculty member, I've had a great year. I've been incredibly fortunate and more productive than expected. But for me, the downside of fortune and productivity is that it feeds on itself, adding fuel to a motivational fire that was humming along already. In the current academic climate (i.e., the intense need for productivity in order to receive promotion and tenure), isn't motivation a positive? Sure. But there is a point of diminishing returns.

Continuing to present and publish while teaching three courses, running a large lab of undergraduates, and volunteering for service work is rewarding, but it's a lot to track at any given time. (Sub any combination of teaching/research/service here. It's a lot.) Because I'm already not so good at achieving work-life balance, I started my summer planning early. I promised myself that I would take it easy this summer. Work on a few projects at a leisurely pace, TAKE A REAL VACATION, and eventually prep for fall. Sleep in. Work from home a lot. And just relax in general. The thought of having a summer like this kept me going through the gray, hectic days of Spring semester. 

Then it started. In January, I saw an NIH Request for Proposals that fit a planned project, and decided to shoot for an October submission. (My first as PI. Reasonable.) I need pilot data for the proposal, and I had planned to run a "small" study in the Spring that would support the application. Then I realized - quite at the last minute - that my institution offers competitive "grants" (stipends) for summer research. So I pulled together an application in March. I also applied for an NIH training program, which required two written applications and a phone interview between January and March. 

Because I don't have graduate students or a research coordinator, the small pilot study took a considerable amount of my time. The opportunity arose for a second (very small) pilot, currently underway. Students requested RA work for the summer. I got the summer grant and got into the training program. And I'm traveling for two weddings.
Each of these experiences has paid off, but has appropriated a chunk of the summer:

  • Pilot study - finish data collection June 6th
  • Summer Grant responsibilities - analyze pilot data and draft a paper by the end of June, travel to State College and Philadelphia to meet with collaborators (June/July)
  • NIH training - in Brooklyn from July 18th to August 1st 
  • Student RA supervision - ongoing

And August? Make major progress on the grant application, revise one course, and complete a brand new prep. Classes start the 24th.

How did this happen? This isn't some sort of humblebrag about what a great workaholic I am. I'm frustrated and disappointed with myself. I had PLANNED to take a break, and I'm only now realizing how much I need it. I dread the idea of starting Fall semester without one, as I can see myself burnt out by the third week. I'm on track for major failure.

My face these days.
What are my options? I've come up with: (1) continue to push through while frustrated, with sounds like a recipe for disaster, (2) take a long vacation in August and sacrifice some prep time, (3) work in smaller breaks that maximize work and rest, and (4) give up, and waste the great opportunities I have.* Right now, I'm leaning toward #3, though I haven't figured out quite how to do it. 

For example, I took a long lunch break yesterday (90 minutes) to socialize with colleagues. It was great, but I got back to my office feeling acutely stressed about work. That seems backward. I went for a run, took the evening off, and got some extra sleep. I still feel stressed today, but I've made some progress, and I can see a way forward. The way includes booking next year's summer vacation now, so that I don't have any excuses. And I'm working from home on Friday :)

*What other options do you see, and how have you managed summer overcommitment? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#NewFaculty: First Year Review (Part 2)

Relief. Spring semester is now officially over, which means that I have even more time and head space to reflect on the first year. As I described in previous posts and Part 1 of this series, it seems that new faculty make one of the following major mistakes:

    Image result for advice for new faculty members
  1. They are unaware of the immense amount of junior faculty-specific information and advice available (see here for a great collection), or
  2. They take the trouble to familiarize themselves with this advice, and then they ignore it. For example, never saying "no" to service requests and keeping their doors open all the time, which leave little time for actual work.

Don't get me wrong - I understand the impulse to please new (and powerful) colleagues and to be perceived as a team player. But you simply cannot be productive if you say "yes" to every request. My technique is to ask myself the following:

  • Is this an activity I think is important, and/or that I would enjoy?
  • What is the actual time commitment? (ASK ASK ASK)
  • Do I absolutely need to do this NOW, or can it wait?

The last is critical. My institution has many mechanisms for supporting faculty development, including internal grants, special programs, and service positions for untenured faculty. But my sense is that both my department and our rank and tenure committee want to see progress. If I do everything in my first year or two - especially the opportunities for which new (vs. returning) applicants are favored - what am I going to do after that? So I focus on pacing myself, and on declining some requests as graciously as possible.

What went well? I think that I successfully protected my time (without angering anyone too much) this year. The evidence is in the positive feedback I received and the concrete output I produced. These include:
  • Mostly positive teaching evaluations (and useful specific recommendations),*
  • An active research lab with many involved undergraduates,
  • Acceptance to a competitive and prestigious training institute for junior faculty (paid for by the National Institutes of Health),
  • Awards of a Teaching Enhancement Grant (to create a new course) and a Faculty Summer Research Grant (to write papers and a grant; both internal),
  • Publication of six empirical articles** (with five more, and two book chapters, in press),
  • Attendance at four conferences** (presented one talk and 12 posters, two with current students),
  • Data collection completed for two studies (a third approved to begin), and
  • Reappointment for a second year.
Image result for productivity

Though the best evidence may be the limited amount of overwhelming stress I felt this year. There were a few rough periods throughout, but nothing like the previous two years. 

What didn't go so well? This is a fantastic first year, and I'm immensely grateful. But there were some meaningful failures to learn from. Of course I got rejected from several sources: at least three paper rejections (one that I was particularly disappointed about and one that outraged me***), as well as a rejection on an internal fellowship for a student RA. Rejections are always difficult, but I'm more resilient than I used to be. Asking for feedback and carefully considering reviewers' comments are on my agenda.

Image result for anxietyWith respect to teaching, I was a slightly different person in the classroom second semester (vs. first). I tried new techniques and relied more consistently on undergraduate TAs, which made me a bit less confident than I had been previously (when I used only me, and methods I knew to be effective for me). I also created a course in my topic area and went out of my way to make it advanced, different, and fun. Imagine my disappointment when this failed to be the case, pretty consistently.**** Of many reasons for this disconnect, I believe that one was prepping on the go; I spent more time on this course than on the others (which were repeats of first semester), but not as much as I could have. Although course evaluations were much better than I expected, the experience of the class was frustrating. Lots to tweak for next Spring.

And though I've yet to see any evidence of this, there is always the possibility that I chose poorly with respect to service commitments. I've become involved with our union in small ways, which makes me (slightly) visible during difficult contract negotiations; this could come back to bite me if the atmosphere worsens. But I like this work, so I'll stick with it.

This is your life moment of the week: I did it! I navigated the first year and got some work done. Pretty great accomplishment, for me and anyone else in the same boat. Kudos if that's you.

Now it's time to make my Summer Plan.****

*I have a 3/3 load.
**Several of these were with my postdoctoral mentors and lab, which carried over.
***Ever get a reviewer who is obviously unfamiliar with even the basics of your field, and rejects you on this basis?
****Look for posts on these, soon to come!