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Archive for the ‘Work-Life Balance’ Category

Given that I’ve felt extra-busy this semester, a few recent discussions of work habits caught my eye.  First was a post by Female Science Professor describing three types of people she has encountered:

A Type W person would get a lot done whether they were funded by a research assistantship (RA), a teaching assistantship (TA), a fellowship, or whatever.

A Type X1 person would only make decent research progress if funded by an RA or fellowship. A TA would consume all of X1’s time and energy, not because X1 is more devoted to teaching than W, but because X1 can only focus on one thing at a time.

A Type X2 person would get more done if partially funded by an RA or fellowship and partially by something requiring a bit of structured work — for example, perhaps teaching one lab or discussion section, or perhaps doing some grading or other work like that. If funded entirely by an RA or fellowship, X2 wouldn’t be able to deal effectively with the lack of structure and would waste a lot of time, making very slow progress, even if the advisor set specific goals.

Given these descriptions, I would classify myself as an X2 person.  As I’ve mentioned, I don’t do well with large blocks of open time.  I also don’t do well when I have something that can easily take up all of my time (like teaching three courses in a semester).  In order to be productive in more than one area I need to have something to structure my time but not so much of that thing that I can’t focus on anything else.

My ability to fill up time with other things is related to a lack of time in general.  Tenured Radical responds to a reader who asks about a lack of time that is related to constant requests from others:

I don’t have time to go to the gym, or to pack my own lunch — two things I swore I would do this fall to maintain my mental health and not gain back the weight I lost over the summer.  I see talks and events come and go and don’t do any of them because I am already scheduled to do something else or I am so tired all I want to do is go home. Worse, I have so much to do that I am not sleeping well and I forget things constantly.  Keeping up with my writing? Ha! I have deadlines coming due that I can’t even imagine I will keep.

Her response is that the reader, “Marv,” needs to learn to say no to things that are not in line with his goals and interests:

This leads us to a larger problem, Marv, which is that you have set goals for yourself — go to the gym, eat a nice lunch, get some sleep, write, be responsible to your students, take advantages of the intellectual pleasures a university campus offers — without actually acting to privilege your own interests and desires over the interests of other people. You are trying to please all of the people, all of the time.  You are pleasing everyone but yourself.

While I can certainly appreciate the pressures to please others, especially on the tenure track, but this is not my problem.  My problem is that I keep saying yes to opportunities that sound interesting without prioritizing my own goals.  I pressure myself to get involved.  At some point, though, I need to decide what is really important, likely putting research above other interests.  I have a feeling that this time will be soon.

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There are two types of Father’s Day cards: funny and sincere.  The sincere cards typically exclaim what an excellent father somebody was and how he was always there to listen/give advice/bail you out of jail.  The problem with the sincere cards is that they go too far in their claims of fatherly excellence.  While there are some people who’s fathers have been consistently excellent who can buy these cards and there are some who have no contact with their fathers and don’t need to worry about sending cards, there are many who fall somewhere in between.  As a result, I think that there is room for more realistic class of sincere Father’s Day cards.

In an attempt to rectify this situation, I created the following cards at someecards.com (where everybody is apparently white):

Until cards like these become reality I guess those of us in the middle will have to stick with the funny cards.

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A post at Tenured Radical yesterday brought up the issue of increasing faculty responsibilities and decreasing salaries (in constant, and sometimes absolute, dollars).  The comments on yesterday’s post are particularly interesting given the wide range of salaries at various institution types.  This is something that most people are aware of in the abstract but is still sobering when contextualized.  A post today continues this discussion and responds to Historiann’s discussion of TR’s changing opinion on salary freezes over the past few years (thankfully, academics are able to change their minds based on new information, unlike politicians).

The issues of salary and workloads are connected to current discussions of work-life balance.  At one such discussion on my own campus at which the administration reiterated its support for the health and well-being of the faculty one brave soul brought up the fact that despite these messages, the only way for faculty members to increase their salaries is to increase their workload.  He then asked whether the administration had ever considered rewarding faculty for leading balanced lives rather than simply working more.  The answer, unsurprisingly, was no.

Faculty members, then, appear to be faced with a choice between working less for less money or working more for less money.

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I’m not sure how your internal clock works, but I personally know that I’m in the midst of a busy semester when I find myself looking forward to the day after Thanksgiving because I’ll be able to sleep in and, upon waking, do something not related to work.  This is sad both because Thanksgiving is so far away and because there is a likelihood that I will, in fact, have some work-related tasks to accomplish that day.  Regardless, my time this semester has been filled with the usual class prep, the new experiences of committee work and advising, and hours upon hours of meetings with students.  This final point has led me to realize that spending so much time meeting with students is making me a bad professor.

On Thursday of this week, for example, I had planned to spend most of my time preparing for class on Friday and Monday (the upside of three-day-a-week classes is that if you have enough of them your schedule appears clear on the other two days).  Those plans were in place before I gave an exam back that I also encouraged students to meet with me to discuss.  The result is five meetings with students spread far enough apart that students shouldn’t have to wait in the hall to speak to me but not so far apart that I can get any real work done between them.  This leaves me with less time to prepare for my classes on Friday and pushes some necessary work on research to Thursday evening and preparation for Monday’s class into the weekend.  In the end, I will likely spend less time preparing for class than I otherwise would have, so my presentation of class information will probably suffer and I will need to spend more time meeting with students to make up for the deficiencies caused by meeting with students.

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If you have been fortunate enough to find a job in the past academic year, you may be facing the prospect of a summer without pay.  Unfortunately, this summer may include things like moving expenses and attending the ASA conference (though you may have been able to negotiate for the costs of one or both of those) but eventually you will be paid and life will resume as normal.  When it does, what are you going to do with your money?  Personally, I went straight from grad student poverty to saving for a house, and from there to buying a house, and from there to a million little unforeseen expenses.  Tenured Radical has been doing this a lot longer than me, though, and she has some good advice for people who are finding themselves with a real income for the first time in their lives.  A brief highlight:

Credit cards are like crack. They sing us siren songs, and we love what they say because we can cure so much unhappiness today and pay for it tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and the next day….) Credit cards are like affairs: we tell ourselves and our friends there is nothing wrong with them, and yet we feel compelled to lie about them too.

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Last semester I worked an average of 47.72 hours per week (50.34 hours when not counting weeks that included breaks of some sort).  Although I did not keep track of my work habits during graduate school, I am pretty confident that I have shattered all personal records for academic productivity.  This total included an average of 41.88 hours in my office and 5.84 hours at home (damn those MWF classes!).  On a typical day I arrived at my office around 7:30 and left around 4:30, with most of my work at home coming on weekends.

One of the joys of academic life is the flexibility to work when you want.  Given my problems with procrastination, this flexibility has also allowed me to go long periods of time without doing much work of any sort.  When working on my dissertation at home last year, this posed some problems.  As a result, I told myself that when I had my own office I would take full advantage of the opportunity afforded by a space with no couch on which to nap.  Now that I’ve had my own office for over six months, I can report that conforming to a regular work schedule has allowed me to be productive without constantly worrying about what else I have to do.  When I go home for the day, I am generally done working for the evening.

Of course, I could be doing more.  I reported last semester, for example, that nearly all of my time was taken up by my teaching duties.  I could have placed five or ten hours of research on top of my other work but this would have also caused me to not be home in time to help my wife prepare for dinner or to give up an hour of mental relaxation while watching TV in the evening.  At this point, all signs indicate that I can earn tenure by completing most of my research duties in the summer and winter breaks and focus on teaching and service when class is in session.  As I learned over winter break when preparing my ASA submission, however, I need to approach research with the same rigid schedule.  Some people may become academics to avoid punching the clock.  For me it is essential.

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I’ve always liked Christmas, but over the years I’ve found that I look forward to it the most during semesters* that I am the busiest.  Given that this is one of the busiest semesters of my life, I was not sorry to see the Christmas decorations creeping into stores just after Halloween.  In times like these, the decorations and lights that start in the stores and spread out into homes and yards are a reminder that Christmas, and the corresponding relief, is on the way.

*It is hard for me to comprehend the fact that most people do not measure their time in terms of semesters.

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Life inside the White House isn’t all fun and games.

Obama Meeting

But some of it is.

Obama Football

More photos available on the Official White House Photostream.

Via:  Daring Fireball

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There is an interesting article on Inside Higher Ed about the desire of graduate students to find employment at “family friendly” institutions, which they typically define to exclude research universities.  The article itself summarizes the findings of a report available on Academe.  “Family friendly” institutions are said to offer a better work-life balance, though Tina at scatterplot has an insightful post about why balance is probably the wrong metaphor in the face of ever-increasing obligations on both fronts.

The ability to have more time for family was one of many factors that led me to seek employment at a liberal arts school.  I have also watched a number of junior faculty members go through the tenure process in my graduate program and have had enough experience with the publication process to know that I do not want my future to rest solely on how many journal articles I can publish in the next six years.

While the Acadme authors take an extreme position by stating that “If this sentiment is broadly shared among current and future student cohorts, the future life-blood of academia may be at stake, as promising young scholars seek alternative career paths with better work-life balance,” anybody who has recently been on the sociology job market knows that this is not the case.  Despite the ASA’s recent conclusion that the job market is good, the current state of the market (i.e., it sucks) is such that candidates are told to apply for all types of jobs and encouraged to take whatever they can get.  While some candidates will have multiple offers, many will not, ensuring that “the future life-blood of academia” will be squeezed from those working long hours under the regime of publish or perish.

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