academic reorganization · ideas for change · job notes · reform · saving my sanity · wish list

The email, oh I’ve had enough of it

My email is killing me. My work account currently has 263 unread emails in it. How is that even possible? The whole first screen of 30 emails only has two unread emails–one from a digest listserv I mostly delete (guiltily) unread every day, and one a Twitter notification. Where are the rest of them? Who are they from? They are hidden among the 1487 other emails sitting there in my inbox. That’s a crazy, unreasonable number of emails to have hanging around, read or unread, in an inbox.

Then my other account. There’s another 162 unread missives sprinkled amidst the 575 total messages there. A lot of those should have come and gone through my work account, but didn’t because there was a week there where my email wasn’t working at the office and so …

Oh hell. It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m feeling exhausted and defeated already.

This email lunacy has to stop.

A lot of this I’ve done inadvertently to myself. The Facebook and Twitter notifications. Marketing emails from Apple and Hootsuite and The Gap and Old Navy and Lululemon and Barefoot Yoga. I signed up for most of that, I guess, but now I’m drowning. Why am I still getting email from the makers of EndNote? I don’t even use EndNote. Other software vendors keep bugging me to upgrade, and I just want to hide under my bed. Stop sending me email, Adobe! And I’m looking at you, too, Screenflow!!

I have a lot of text-messagy emails from my husband and my sister that I never seem to delete. That clogs stuff up, too. Oh, and a million HuffPo and NYT and Globe and Mail articles I email to myself from my phone late at night, so I’ll remember to add them to my online bookmarking service from my computer. I just checked and there are 83 messages from myself sitting in my inboxes. Oh God, *I* am the problem.

But there are other problems.

Student emails. I’m teaching a total of 40 first years and 16 grads right now, and I’m on the committees of or supervising another 7 graduate students. It’s paper-writing, grant application reference letter, proposal-writing, thesis drafting time. These emails require my attention, and then my action, and many of them have lots of links or documents in them I need to keep. Meetings I need to schedule. Things I have to keep thinking about and things I have to do. I’m not sure how to make this any better. It’s obviously much better to hear frequently from my grad students than to never hear from them. And some of my graduate assignments require students to meet with me. I really push my first years to send me messages through the LMS, but since that software’s email is so awkward and awful, I get them all forwarded to my university account and often reply from there as well, so it’s not much help. Except at least they have a uniform subject line so I can find them later if they fall through the cracks now.

University emails. If I get one more cryptic memo written for the pleasure of the sending department rather than to meet the needs of the intended recipient, I’m gonna punch somebody, I swear. Noon hour concerts. Talks on medieval political science. Internal marketing about our vision our logo our new revenue generating graduate programs. Memos about plagiarism, about copyright, about religious accommodation for exams. Emails about software updates for machines I don’t use; emails about machine downtime for software I don’t use. Emails warning about email viruses. Emails announcing hirings and retirements and deaths and births. Imprecations to read all these emails more carefully. Reply-alls to the entire faculty of arts, then reply-all apologies to the entire faculty of arts. Some of this (a vanishingly small amount) is important but the sheer volume of completely irrelevant and uninteresting stuff is killing my will to live. Would the institution ever have sent me this many paper memos? Never. And what’s worse? Colleagues who receive these mass mailouts AND FORWARD THEM TO ME AGAIN. Now I’ve received an irrelevant email twice. Awesome.

The one-offs. These I feel the worst about, because they are important. But they are also unique and require thought and so I put off dealing with them, and because they are unique, I then forget about them. They get buried in the avalanche and by lunchtime tomorrow? Three screens down, utterly neglected. Cold-call networking emails from fascinating people. Calls to review. Conference calls sent to me especially. Potential students currently at other institutions. Blog readers with questions. These all keep me awake at night–because that’s when I suddenly remember them, at 3am, when I have to pee.

I easily spend over an hour every day–sometimes significantly more–just dealing with my email and the stuff in it. And then every couple of months I have to spend most of a day mucking it out. It’s awful. This feels like a terrible waste and a terrible burden and just generally inefficient and wrong.

I’m subscribing to the email charter. Have you read it? You should. There’s some pretty sensible stuff in there. Do you think it could work, in a university context? Are you overwhelmed by your email?

Just please don’t ask me how many web browser windows I have open on my desktop right now. Or when I turned into Andy Rooney.

academy · job notes · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · research · students · writing

What to do with an RA?

I was at a conference this summer, catching up with a colleague and admiring her new iPad, on which she was studiously taking notes. “Thanks,” she said, “I just bought it with my grant!” It turns out we both won our very first SSHRC SRGs this year and were wrapping our heads around what it meant to do this research, with tens of new thousands of dollars. We were at something of a loss.

Hm.

I know at my institution we are vigorously prodded, as soon as we arrive, to secure “external funding” for our research. And in the humanities, particularly, we are sometimes skeptical: I myself have asked, “What the hell do I need $50,000 for? I read books and then write articles about them, in my pajamas.” But external funding must be sought, for the good of the institution and its reputation. We are also told it is for the good of our students: a SSHRC-funded RA goes for about $15,000 a year, good money and at the disposal of the funding department, amazing! Funding for grad students is often the biggest line item in a humanities SSHRC. 78% of my own SSHRC grant, for example, is straight RA funding.

Now, the problem, fairly common if I am to judge from my hallway conversations in institutions near and far, is “What the hell do I do with a grad student?”

No one teaches us this. As a PhD student, your job is to get it all done, all by yourself, bothering as few people as possible, and on a shoestring budget. And now you have staff? Many of us draw on our own experience of being RAs to cobble something together: photocopying? re-typing someone’s book? avoiding hallway run-ins for 8 months and just cashing the cheques? SSHRC stipulates that the work a grad student does shouldn’t be simply clerical or menial, but if you’re in the humanities it can be really hard to imagine what elements of your research you can offload onto an RA.

I have some ideas, having had three RAs over the past four years. (And let me just thank them right now, for their wonderful work and great patience with my figuring all this out: thanks RC, DM, and LB).

Straight up research:

  • I have my RAs build Zotero databases of research materials, in my general area. They organize all the citations into categories I leave them free to devise. They create keywords and folders, they attach PDFs where they can, snapshots where they can’t. I pay them to learn Zotero, and to consult with librarians about where and how to find sources. I could teach them this, but isn’t the point to free up my time? We both win from this: they get research training in bibliographic software, and in advanced library work, and hopefully the subject matter is in their area.
  • I have them try to solve specific questions: “I am writing,” (I say) “something about the rural/urban digital divide, which I know exists but I need some good, recent sources to back me up.” And they find it. So I very rarely now ever go check my own facts while I’m drafting stuff. I’m not making stuff up, I’m just failing to be scrupulously precise while I’m freewriting, and my RAs help me move to the next stage of more careful writing.

Para-research:

  • There is sometimes some filing and photocopying. Not much, though. Some physical bringing stuff to and from the library, ordering interlibrary loans, etc.

Professionalization:

  • I have regular (bi-weekly, usually) meetings with my RAs. We talk about the kinds of tasks involved in scholarly work: journal publication, original research, conference presentation or conference organization, grant applications. By describing as well as modelling the rhythms and processes of scholarship, I hope to demystify them for my RA, as well as get someone to help me.
  • My RA reads my grant applications, both to know what our project is about, and to know what a grant application looks like.
  • Sometimes, I give my RA an early draft of an article or chapter to read: this both helps them know what kind of research I need them to do, and it shows them that first drafts by professional writers are in fact pretty awful misspelled misbegotten poorly conceived simplistic and half-assed things. 
  • At these meetings I also encourage my RA to bring to me any questions they have about their own conferences or research process or journal submission. 

Document preparation:

  • I work in an interdisciplinary field: this is great but one side effect is every goddamned journal has a different referencing system. My RA cleans up / regularizes all my in-text citations/footnotes and reference lists. Untold hours are saved by me this way, and the RA learns that details matter as well as how to do all the systems and how each journal usually has its own style rules and how to find them. 
  • Lately, I’ve been having my RA be a pair of eyes on my pre-submission work: he or she reads my manuscript and leaves me comments. I explicitly ask to have repetitive phrases flagged, or other quirks pointed out. My RA doesn’t change my prose, ever, but does comments in the margins, and then I change stuff.
  • Sometimes, my RA helps with the page-proofs stage: I pretty much have my articles memorized by this point in the process and can very easily miss the kinds of simple typos and errors that the proof-reading stage is meant to check for.

Disciplinary service:

  • My current RA just helped one of my colleagues with a major conference running here, doing up the program and working the registration desk … and going to talks and meeting people.
  • We’re hosting Congress this year, so I imagine there’ll be more of that kind of work.

That’s pretty much what I’ve got. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I have to work harder on my research just to generate enough stuff to keep my RA busy, but that’s okay. And I really, really like offloading citations, library work, and documents preparation: I always hated that stuff, and now I actually write more because I don’t have to do it. I really like getting to know these junior scholars, and collaborating with them: they bring me great stuff, and I hope that some of this work is valuable to them, and that seeing my own scholarship “behind the scenes” is in a way valuable as they become scholars in their own right.

So. It’s weird to suddenly have an RA and be a ‘boss’, but it can be really really helpful to advance the research, and a benefit to the student too.

What do you do with your RA, if you have one? If you were an RA, what did you do? I’d love to hear more about how this arrangement is managed by others.

day in the life · job notes · learning

Mistress of Vice

As Erin wrote last week, by mid-June most academics are settling into a slower tempo, working at the pace for reading, writing, and contemplation. I, on the other hand, am ramping up to a July 1 start date for my new role as Vice Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta.

What does that mean? I wish I knew. The position is relatively new to universities, and it means different things in different contexts. I like to think of it as the Leo McGarry position, though I’d be content to be half the strategic thinker he is. With the responsibilities of a dean being largely external (60% of a Dean’s job at the UofA is external), the Vice Dean often minds the shop, overseeing hiring and retention and programming. In our case, the Vice Dean is also in charge of space, consults closely on budget, and will coordinate international strategy and interdisciplinarity, as well as technology and innovation. You fill in for other associate deans (at the moment, I’m effectively AD Research, AD Teaching and Learning, and AD Grad, since there is a gap between people) and help sort out sticky HR situations. You push email, sprint from meeting to meeting, and respond to requests for information from – well, all over, from what I can see – while maintaining your supervisions, cranking out some research, and building the careers of those around you. Oh, and you don’t get to teach.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m wondering the same thing: what on earth would compel anyone to take on such a role? Well, for one thing, I’m nosy. I like to know what’s going on with people, with departments, with institutions. For another, I’m bossy. (Yeah, I was that six year old.) I’ve always wanted a job with “Vice” in the title – ideally Mistress of Vice, but Vice Dean will do. And evidently I just can’t shake my career-long attraction to the intellectual question of how to make complicated institutions work better.

I will continue blogging here at Hook & Eye, though as I explained to my co-bloggers, the wonderful Aimee and Erin, there may be times where it simply isn’t possible. I don’t know, either, how freely I’ll be able to speak. That’s something I’ll have to feel my way through. But because I care about this blog and its readers – you! – and because it might prove useful to record what it’s like to learn a job like this, I want to keep my oar in.

So what’s it like to learn a job like this? Scary. Prone to anxiety in general, particularly anticipatory anxiety, I am definitely getting my fill of things to worry about. There is just so much I’ve never done; like most professors, I feel junior even though I’ve been in the game a long time now. How do you hire colleagues, from job ad to signed contract? How do you write effectively to the government? How do you think through a new process in a way that’s fair and expeditious? What if there is a dark side, and I’m on it? Whose emails do I answer first, and how promptly? How many and which errors are forgivable? What can I let go of? Where are the files on our subvention process, what are the terms of reference for this group I’m now chairing, and when is it okay (with me) to cancel a meeting with a student/friend/colleague? Will I lose my friends? Will my colleagues still respect me? Will they like me? – understand me, my job, the things I have to do? How much sleeve-tugging can you do before you’re simply an annoyance? How do you learn all of these things at the same time, and still stay on top of email? And would I worry about any of this if I wasn’t so conventionally gendered?

I will keep you posted.

emotional labour · job notes · saving my sanity · time crunch

The J Curve

About eight years into my job as a professor, I realized that although I hadn’t yet done everything there is to do at a university, I’d done enough that I could more or less figure out whatever came my way. I called that stage “inevitable competence.” I realize that sounds at once grandiose and pitiful, but at the time it gave me an enormous sense of relief.

I’m reminded of that because the last few posts and comments here at Hook & Eye, particularly Aimee’s Friday missive, emphasize how hard this job can be, particularly with a young family.

This job is hard.

But it gets easier.

The getting-easier is what this post is about. One of the worst parts of being in a difficult place is not recognizing your experience as part of a specific and temporary phenomenon, and so I want to lay out here some of the things that made the job easier for me, over time. The transition from grad school to tenure is a kind of J-curve. You graduate elated with your success (I’m finished!!) and then each year gets a little harder and a little worse until, little by little, it turns around, and you find yourself on an upward trajectory. Everybody’s different, of course, but here are some of the good things I’ve noticed, and that you might experience or anticipate, too.

  1. You get a job. It may not be the job of your dreams. It may not be in the city you always fancied. It may not be in the same place as your partner’s job, which really bites, and maybe it’s not an academic job at all. The job comes through or you move on (even if “moving on” = “settling”). The holding pattern Erin described does not last forever, I promise.
  2. You learn how to teach. You figure out who you really are as a teacher – not just when you’re TAing or teaching that one class while you tidy up your dissertation, but who you are as a person who heads into the classroom three or six or nine or twelve times a week, addressing students at different levels and on different topics. You become more comfortable in your teacherly persona. You develop course materials and teaching strategies you can reuse. You tolerate less bullshit, or maybe more, but you spend less energy setting boundaries and more time existing within them. Best of all, grading gets easier (not “easy,” but “easier”!).
  3. Research comes to you. When you first start out, everything is a cold call. You submit abstracts to conferences, some of which turn you down. You submit articles to journals, some of which turn you down. But some things come through. And as you start putting your work out there in the world, opportunities approach you. People invite you to participate in symposia, on roundtables, in working groups. Colleagues seek out your opinion (is there anything sweeter than the first time you’re asked to review a paper for publication?). You get asked to give keynotes, essays are solicited. I think you’re never free of the courage-screwing obligation to send your vulnerable ideas out into the chill academic air, but after a while that’s not all you do.
  4. Administrative service gives you knowledge. As Jo-Ann blogged last fall, “you know stuff.” By working on committees, you learn the acronyms, the unofficial rules, the loopholes, the perils and the benefits that not even the most well-meaning institutions ever spell out. You figure out how your institution really works. You meet people who model the kind of academic you want to be; as importantly, you figure out who you don’t want to be! And by building your reputation in administrative service, you set yourself up for recognition and opportunities down the road. 
  5. Your family grows up. Admittedly, I’m treading on thin (i.e., non-experiential) ice here, but everybody I know says that taking care of pre-school kids is the hardest. Once your kids are sleeping through the night and spending days in school, family life is easier. For one thing, you don’t have to pay (as much) for daycare. For another, you and your partner, if you have one, will have worked out how to co-parent, and you will have established some network or support system. As with grading, I’m not sure family life ever gets “easy” – isn’t that the joy of it? – but it does get easier. At least until they’re teenagers.
  6. You make more money. Buy more space, hire a housecleaner, get a(nother) vehicle, eat out more often – some problems really can be solved by throwing money at them.
  7. You start saying no by saying yes. What I mean by this puzzling turn of phrase is that by accumulating things you want to do, you have a legitimate way of turning down the things you don’t so much want to do. This is an important variation on the “just say no” theme, advice that I find suspect for many reasons (see future post?). For now, suffice it to say that work is easier when you like what you’re doing. Do more of that.
  8. The “firsts” get fewer and farther between. First graduate seminar? First university-level meeting? First semester juggling multiple expectations? First supervisory obligation? First kid? Check, check, check and check. With each tick of the box, you acquire experience. And with more experience, things take less time and – this is key, especially for women, I believe – carry fewer emotional vicissitudes. You’re more confident, less subject to doubt. Bad weeks come around, and you never actually cure yourself of anxiety (or at least I never have): there is always more work to do than the time available to do it and the inbox will never be empty. But living in a state of perpetual behindness becomes a fact of life rather than an acutely perilous condition.

Welcome to the glorious plateau of inevitable competence!

equity · job notes · promotion

How to solve the problem of women "standing still"

I sat down to key the solution to the gender inequity in promotion that Julie so eloquently blogged about yesterday – and to refresh my mind about the issues, I revisited the Modern Language Association’s report “Standing Still.” On rereading, I couldn’t help thinking that if we implemented just some of the following, we’d be making progress.

Here are the MLA’s recommendations.

  1. Colleges and universities should establish clear guidelines and paths for promotion from associate professor to professor in alignment with their institutional mission. With the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, the committee recommends that colleges and universities adopt a more expansive conception of scholarship, research, and publication; rethink the dominance of the monograph; and consider work produced and disseminated in new media. The committee also recommends public scholarship as an important avenue of research.
  2. Colleges and universities should offer substantial increases in salary when a faculty member is promoted from associate professor to professor. At institutions of higher education across the country, the increase in salary at promotion generally offers little incentive to aspire to and strive for promotion.
  3. Colleges and universities should create programs for mentoring associate professors. At its best, such mentoring inspires a sense of responsibility across ranks and a sense of intergenerational connection and reciprocity.
  4. Colleges and universities should establish leadership training explicitly for newly tenured women faculty members in the recognition that promotion to associate professor often entails appointment to leadership positions.
  5. Colleges and universities should sponsor training and development sessions for their
    department chairs on key matters:
    • the importance of the ongoing development of associate professors, with an emphasis on long-range planning over a period of at least five years and on encouraging the continued scholarly progress of faculty members at the rank of associate professor from the time they are promoted
    • the assessment of the allocation of responsibilities of faculty members to ensure that they are equitably and appropriately distributed across the ranks of probationary and tenured faculty members
    • the monitoring of how long associate professors have been in rank in relation to the mission of the institution. Nine years might be used as a metric for measuring an institution’s progress in promoting associate professors.
  6. Colleges and universities should devote specific resources, in addition to leaves for
    research, to support associate professors’ scholarship. They have the obligation not only to require and encourage but also to help underwrite the scholarship of faculty members at all ranks and across the span of their careers. Scholarship is a public good and should be supported.
    equity · job notes · promotion

    Guest Post: Heliopause: Becoming a Female Full Professor

    In 2007, I received the Letter from my Dean. Like my favourite spacecraft of all time, Voyagers I and II, I was approaching the equivalent of the Heliopause. I think that Heliopause fits the problem of promotion in the academy better than the idea of the Glass Ceiling. The Heliopause marks the very edge of our solar system, the place where the magnetic field generated by the sun declines, and magnetic fields coming from beyond the solar system become stronger. Beyond the Heliopause, there is interstellar space. Nothing made by human beings has ever travelled so far and no one thought that it was possible to approach this boundary. And even Voyagers I and II weren’t built to travel there. They were supposed to break down after their missions to the outer planets in the 1980s, but they did not. Their intelligent design meant that ten years into the millenium, decades after they transmitted the most beautiful pictures ever made of the planets Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, they are still out there, providing new data about what is largely unknown.

    Okay, back to the letter from the Dean. It told me that I qualified for promotion to Full Professor and it invited me to apply for promotion. After more than a decade at my university, I knew what the letter really meant: I was approaching the end of the pay scale for Associate Professor and was being “invited” to make the jump to Full. Like the Voyagers, I wasn’t “supposed” to get this letter this early in my career. But there I was, staring at my the evidence of my own Heliopause, a magnetic field I couldn’t see but which nevertheless powerfully determines the direction in which I move.

    Like magnetic fields, lines of power and authority are hard to detect, but they move through everything we do. This is particularly evident in the mysteries of tenure and promotion, processes which affect everyone who has a permanent position in the professoriat but which are little understood. For example, it is not a given that every professor becomes a full professor in the Canadian system. In my institutions, there are few overt benefits: our pay incrementation does rise, but only for a few years and the standards for getting increments rises too. And there isn’t a bonus for getting promoted. But the hidden benefits are considerable. Even though the criteria for promotion primarily are based on research record, it is tacitly assumed that full professors can take up all kinds of leadership roles in the university. This isn’t actually true, because I know a lot of Associate Professors who are better at administration and teaching than many Full Professors. But it’s a common assumption, and so in the academy it takes on the force of truth. Becoming a Full Professor is a personal milestone, but it also brings cultural capital with it. Cultural capital is what guarantees other kinds of capital in the academic world.

    So, I knew that I was being “invited” to apply for promotion, but the invitation was not really all that open. I didn’t have to apply. If I did, there is no measurable way to ensure that I would be successful. Like everything else in the academy, getting a promotion depends on the evaluations of my colleagues in my department, my faculty and my field. I would be judged and hopfully not found wanting. It was scary just thinking about what being turned down would mean, professionally and personally. I asked myself: “is my record good enough?” I didn’t know.

    Many academic women answer this question by not going for promotion. Fewer women than men apply for promotion to full professor. Of those who pass through the Heliopause of promotion, most are men: in 2007, the Canadian Equity Audit reported that only 20% of Full Professors in Canadian postsecondary education were women. Compare that to the level of Associate Professor where 35.8% were female, and Assistant Professor, where the figure was 42.9%. The figures are only slightly better in English, my area. The Modern Language Association found out in 2009 that only 32% of Full Professors in their membership were female, but almost half of the Associate Professors were (49%). That survey also reported that on average, women take between one to three and a half years longer than men to apply for promotion. In research-intensive institutions, that figure jumps to more than eight years longer.

    It’s clear from these figures that there is a significant gender gap in the professoriate, and that women wait longer than men to make that trip through the Heliopause. There are a lot of reasons why this might be true. The magnetic lines of force in the academy can make the idea of promotion unthinkable for those women who have to juggle more responsibilities at home than some men do, and who spend more time teaching than doing research, the thing which–like it or not–is the key factor to getting a promotion. It’s also about self-confidence and time: women in the MLA survey reported that with collegial colleagues and mentorship, release time for research, a clear system for promotion and the confidence they gained from going to conferences, it was easier to believe that they could apply for promotion and be successful.

    Meanwhile, back at my institution, I wondered what to do. I knew about the Equity Audit statistics. So I asked the last woman in my department who became a full professor to visit my office and talk to me about whether I should go for promotion or not. We got out a list of faculty in my department and counted the number of full professors who were women. Guess what: in 2007, there were twenty-two male full professors, and only six female full professors. Only six! My colleague and I looked at each other. “Okay,” she said, “you had better do it.” I thought so too. Another colleague told me that about fifteen years before, the number had actually been higher because there had been eight women.

    So I applied, and I got the promotion. Even though it was “early” for a woman like me to apply, I decided to buck the statistics and show other women that we didn’t have to wait until we were in our 50s to become full professors. Although I don’t think that there were immediate benefits other than the temporary increase in salary incrementation, I’d say that the supportive letters in my file from my referees and the fact that my junior female colleagues have said that they can see that it’s possible made it worth it. On a personal level, I’m glad that I took this step because I proved something to myself. Now I evaluate tenure cases, and I recently had the satisfaction of fighting for one woman in another institution who almost didn’t get tenure because the criteria for her were made much harder than for her male colleagues. I know that I got to weigh in on that issue because I’m a full professor, and I got to make a difference.

    What lies beyond the Heliopause? I’m only beginning to find out. But I know as my junior female colleagues and all of my colleagues who belong to minority groups join me out there, I’ll be in good company as we make that journey together.

    – Julie Rak
    University of Alberta

    job market · job notes

    The beautiful job

    Recently I received an email from a graduate student in English who wanted to talk about “acquiring the tenure track job on which my future happiness depends.”

    This lovely locution, which I take to stand for professorial aspiration in general, got me thinking: what is that job, as it figures in the imagination? And what is the job in real life? What did I think I was getting myself into? Was I right? And am I happy?

    I am happy, but I had no idea what a TT job involved. When I was a grad student – wait, no, my understanding was formed long before that, sometime in my undergraduate Chaucer class, maybe, where every day the professor handwrote a bibliography across both blackboards – or perhaps by reading The Edible Woman at an impressionable moment. I  thought being a professor would involve long periods of quiet contemplation punctuated by scintillating conversations with gifted students or impassioned arguments with colleagues. I expected medicine for the soul, a clean well-lighted place with books, cool quiet and time to think. Noble penury. Principled aloofness. Anguished genius.

    Turns out it’s not really like that. Even the noble penury doesn’t last forever.

    I thought what I might do in this post is recap last week, which was a really good week, and fairly typical. I thought doing this might give substance to the understanding of what it means to be a professor these days. It’s a bit long, as blog posts go, so if you are not plagued with prurience about other people’s everyday, please click away and make better use of your time. Final caveat: being an associate dean, I do less teaching and attend more meetings than most professors. Still, for what it’s worth, here is a recap of the week of 31 January 2011.

    Monday
    Research day! I used to preserve Fridays, but found I was so tired by week’s end that I would just sit at my desk filing email for hours. So now I take Mondays, and while I rarely spend the whole workday on research, about 2 Mondays a month I do get to work from home. This Monday I reread and prepped the book I had to teach on Tuesday, started reading the book I have to teach next week, graded last week’s blog assignments, wrote a letter of recommendation for a graduate student, drafted the midterm mapping assignment for English 380, talked to an editor on the phone, submitted a detailed course description for next year’s courses, and sorted (but tried to avoid answering) email.

    Tuesday
    I’m at work early, about 7:45. That gives me 45 minutes to manage email before I meet with a colleague to finalize the participants for the first Banff Research in Culture, our very cool new summer school. At 9:58 I leave my colleague in my office to finish up because I have Associate Deans’ Council. I leave that meeting early for an 11:30 lunch appointment with the director of a research institute – who, fortunately, has to be somewhere at 1pm herself, so I am on time for the weekly meeting with my assistant (the 3 academic associate deans share an assistant). We are trying to understand the impact on Arts departments of a funding change at FGSR, so this week’s meeting is about how to solicit, manage and present financial data in order to advocate effectively. At 2pm I teach, so I force myself to stop writing emails at 1:45 in order to focus. But I also don’t want to forget to stop in the English department to sign a grad student’s travel form, meaning I arrive with my head not really in the game. It’s an okay class, but I feel I’m not teaching at my best this semester. Or rather, since that’s a bit unfair, I feel at this particular point in my career I’m learning how to let go in the classroom and allow things to happen in a less structured way – and I’m finding that difficult to do and difficult to evaluate.

    At 3:30 I have office hours but today there’s a reporter from The Gateway to talk with me about tomorrow night’s event, which is a first-ever, experimental pecha kucha competition for graduate students on how to make Arts research public. A colleague and I have set this up and have no idea what to anticipate.

    Home about 6 to eat leftover pasta and head out to a new fitness class at 7pm. I don’t know it yet, but this will prove to be the worst decision of the week, at once boring (squats, pushups, situps, pullups) yet painful.

    Home at 8:30. Shower. OMGBlog!! Bed.

    Wednesday
    The early part of the day is unstructured, so I have actual worktime for new recruitment monies, TT hire in Sociology, the CSL component of my class, task force on grad student funding. As always, I spend a ridiculous amount of time managing my calendar. You know what would give me an extra three hours a week? Calendar invites instead of email notices.

    At 11:30 I’m slated to meet with the Vice Dean. At 2pm we have Chairs Council. That meeting leads directly into unveiling the teaching wall of fame at 3pm, an installation honoring excellent teaching in the Faculty of Arts. It’s lovely: tea, scones, orchid corsages for award winners, a rousing speech by the Dean, great conviviality, and a satisfying turnout. After chitchatting for an hour, there are only 15 minutes back at my desk before I have to leave for dinner: we are taking the pecha kucha judges out to dinner before tonight’s competition. Walking to the restaurant, I wonder whether four-inch platform boots were the way to go today. Which reminds me to call the drag queen to confirm she’s coming to my class tomorrow.

    Dinner is fantastic. The “Let’s Talk: Making Arts Research Public” competition, which will hand out three prizes of $1500, is being judged by members of the actual public we’re hoping grad students can reach. They are my dinner companions: the MLA Laurie Blakeman, the writer Todd Babiak, and arts administrator Amber Rooke, together with my friend and colleague Imre Szeman, CRC in Cultural Studies and tireless, inventive collaborator. The working part of the dinner establishes the criteria for judging tonight’s event, but the conversation ranges all over: the current political climate of Alberta (suddenly interesting), the role of the university in the intellectual life of the city, the affordances and limitations of digital technology for active citizenship, and what genuine partnerships between academics and public intellectuals might look like.

    We are on tenterhooks for the “Let’s Talk” event itself, but the grad students – of course! – amaze me. Students want to map public art in Edmonton, re-mark the “On to Ottawa” trek, videotape mummers, set up a blog about inactivity as a form of productive political engagement (this one stole my heart), stage sound in random stairwells, coordinate public opinion on downtown developments, listen to children by taking their art seriously, create huge-format Dracula editions building on the vampire phenomenon and First Nations weaving traditions, and make comic books that foreground the history of Jewish immigration behind Superman. The event ends at 9pm with three worthy winners, but students, colleagues, administrators, judges and media stick around, talking, until sometime after 10. I go home happy.

    Thursday
    Never made the mistake of opening email before you leave the house! But I do, which means I don’t get in to the office until 11:00. But by that time, I’ve read all six papers, English and French, for the research seminar on Friday as well as a brilliant graduate student’s written exams: her oral is next Tuesday. That leaves me two hours for more email before meeting with the Dean at 1. Class starts at 2 and I meet Darrin Hagen there. Here’s a pedagogical insight from the week: don’t even try to compete with a drag queen’s wit. The class goes so well that the students are still talking when it’s time to move on to the book-signing, so we move that out into the hall. One student has a question about counseling a friend about gender reassignment, and that means I’m late for Patsy Yeager‘s talk at 3:30 – which I don’t want to be, since I’m part of a group taking her out to dinner – but what can you do? I slip in at 3:40. The topic is trash and our attachments to it, and everybody seems captivated. My neck and shoulders are still so sore from Tuesday’s disastrous workout that I can hardly see the videos.

    I have two hours between the end of questions and our dinner reservation, and it’s a good thing, because I have a lot of wrapping-up to do. I write to each grad student competitor thanking them for their participation. I reach out to a few students whose work intersected with mine to see whether they want to participate in the Digital Urbanisms collaboratory my research group has just been awarded. I want to write thank-you notes to the judges (which is what you do when there’s no money) to go along with the thank-you notes to the BRiC vettors. I remember errands I haven’t yet done. I really want to get the must-deal-with email back down to a single screen, since being on the second screen is fatal to your chances of my replying.

    I do …. some of this.

    Dinner is terrific: convivial and intellectual, full of anecdotes and explorations. We talk about the PMLA, the job market, our projects. I learn more about what my colleagues are working on. Patsy insists on dessert, thereby endearing herself to me. Home around 11.

    Friday
    Friday starts with a two-hour budget meeting at 9am: not my department, but one I’m responsible for as an associate dean. I find it complicated and interesting. It’s one of the few times we look at a department as a whole: undergraduate programs, teaching complement, grad numbers, part-timers. This is the first of five such meetings for me this month (the Vice Dean does all 17 Arts departments). At 11:30, after a half hour of email, I meet with a grad chair to figure out how to sustain decent funding and get students through the program in a reasonable time without compromising the quality of their work. Then I realize I’m double booked at 1pm. A student from a couple of years ago is coming by to talk about grad school, and I put that ahead of arriving on time for the CLC research seminar. In the end, I miss the first hour of the seminar, but am there from 2-5pm. One of my grad students presents: as always, she is brilliant. Another one of my supervisees, recently finished the PhD, is there too and asks the first question, which is pointed and generous and helpful. I can’t believe how proud I am of both of them.

    I skip the wine and cheese in order to get home for a 6pm skype date with a friend in New York, feeling that I’ve earned this week’s end.

    Analysis
    I love this job. But it is nothing like I imagined. There are few periods of scholarly contemplation; instead, it’s a bonus to prep class the night before. There are no impassioned arguments with colleagues, though there’s lots of conviviality and a good exchange of ideas. Nobody told me what a delight graduate students would be, nor, in fairness, how much of a scramble it can be to keep up with them. I hadn’t anticipated this many numbers in my everyday (that’s a decanal thing, I think). Atwood was writing long before email, so it might not be fair to say there’s a lot more keyboard than ironing board; still, I am sometimes gobsmacked by how much of the job takes place through Outlook.

    I definitely like the comfortable pay and job security of a tenured position, but there are a couple of things to add to that. First, and this is well documented, people taking TT jobs tend to do so later in life than those who don’t pursue a PhD, meaning their earning years are shortened. Professors also typically take up those positions with student loans to repay, and plough some percentage of after-tax earnings back into the job (to supplement research trips, buy books, etc.): one year a colleague calculated this at 17%. Second, especially in the pre-tenure years but also to some degree afterward, you don’t feel like you have security. Even though you can’t really lose your job, you feel like you are constantly being scrutinized and found wanting. No matter how busy your days or long your weeks, the white space on your annual report – and I believe everybody feels this – comes at you like a moral reproach. Forgive me for saying this in a context where so many people have no job security, but the “tenure” in TT positions often feels tenuous.

    As wonderful as last week was, I don’t think this is the only job that I could love. On surveying the past week, what gave me the most pleasure was building things – the Banff summer school, the pecha kucha competition. Second, I liked the conversations. Notably, these did not involve just academics; in fact, for me the week’s most interesting dialogue was probably with a politician, a journalist and an arts administrator. Third, I know I like teaching in all contexts, but as I’m constantly lamenting, this job usually doesn’t involve enough of it, given the other demands on my time. Fourth, notice the relative absence of research in my week. I like the projects I’m involved in, but writing scholarly articles is not basic to my sense of intellectual vitality.

    I’m not saying you’re like me, or you should be. I offer this post as part of an ongoing discussion about the post-doctoral job market. If you found this useful/interesting, I invite you to write your own weekly recap for this blog. I think an archive of academic women’s everydays, whether new professor, old graduate student, contract instructor, non-academic staff, etc. would be inherently interesting and potentially valuable. (Let’s agree they don’t all have to be as ponderous as this post!)

    If that works, maybe we could branch out into the everydays of highly educated women who don’t work in the academy: I suspect that one of the reasons we don’t think beyond the professoriate is that we don’t have a concrete sense of what non-academic professionals do.

    But I must fly. That email won’t answer itself.