Friday, February 26, 2010

Countdown to spring break

Sometimes I think the students don't realize that we look forward to Spring Break almost as much as they do, or perhaps more.  I'm looking for a few calm days to finish writing my grant due the next week (or possibly write the whole thing the way life is going lately).  Also on the list is to dig out all the spring/summer clothes for the kids and figure out what we need before the summer water play/pool/camp season is upon us.  (It sneaks up right after commencement.)

The last two weeks have been crazy busy with trying to finish my overdue book chapter, prepping for student presentations in my class (selecting papers for them to present), organizing a monster graduate recruiting weekend, and a quick trip to a board of directors meeting.  What is it about faculty that makes them long winded and bad at time management when speaking?  It was the nicest hotel I've stayed in for ages (perhaps ever).  Unfortunately I arrived about 7 hours before my meeting started so really it was mostly wasted on sleeping.  Oh and a week of all my crazy committees (read only tenured woman in engineering not on leave) meeting in the same week UGH!

So here I am with a million things on my to do list and only one week of classes left before spring break.  The thought that I might get them done by the end is so enticing (even though we all know I won't make it through them all).  Not as enticing as my friend who booked a spring break trip to Puerto Rico for her family a few weeks ago.  I'm soooo jealous.  Sun, beaches, drinks with umbrellas....  Ah well just catching up is almost as good right???

Was  I working on saying no???  I feel like a big failure in this department right now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The last two-three months have been really crazy due in part to an important leadership role in a university service.  All in all it was a really valuable learning experience in regard to how things really work at universities (or at least my university).  I'll share a few take home messages from this in a generalized form: (1)  if you are asked to chair a committee only agree to do so if you have major input into the make up of the committee (probably the most important part of reaching a favorable solution/recommendation), (2) the real action should happen outside the meeting (you should be talking with the key players on the committee making sure they up to speed before the meeting), don't blindside people with big proposals in a meeting and expect them to be on board, (3) get a mentor/confidant, especially if you are new to a leadership role (find someone outside the direct impact of the outcome so they can give you advice not colored by their personal stake, and it has to be someone you can totally trust and share details with so you can bounce ideas off them or get suggestions when things get tough), and (4) work your connections/relationships/networks to get a favorable outcome (this is how things work in reality, not some idealized neutral system so use the system to your benefit to get information or share it when needed with key players).

Overall I'm happy with the outcome of my assignment and it has fit within the best case scenario window identified at the start.  It's a little anti-climactic, but I think that is just exhaustion.  It took a lot more time, and mental energy than I envisioned when I agreed to do the job, but because of my personal stake in the outcome it was worth it.  I also learned a lot about working with people and finding the things that will make them cringe or get on board.  However, it has made me realize that being a good leader is a lot of work, and that's something I'll file in my head for consideration down the road.

Now it's back to the daily grind of teaching, grants, papers, my regular service obiligations, graduate admissions and recruiting, etc.  I'm trying to focus on aligning my time allocation with my priorities research, papers and grants because I find that graduate recruiting and teaching are overwhelming me right now.  I'm trying to follow some tips on this from an article I read in Inside Heigher Ed (thanks Aurora for the tip).  Started tracking my time yesterday and I'm realizing that the ever urgent nature of teaching and appointments seem to suck much of my time.  Tomorrow I'm going to take a writing day to try to focus on getting this in balance (and getting a good draft of my way overdue book chapter).  Also need to regroup and focus on the expectations for promotion to full professor.  (I fear this means ramping up the travel again.)

I'd love to hear your tips for aligning your tim alocation with your long term career goals.