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!