On the other side of tenure

Could professional women receive any more mixed messages? Lean In*. Sit tallWork longer. Do more. Other bossy two-word tropes. Meanwhile, recline. Get out. All while being fabulously fit, tanned, well-dressed, put-together, towing along a perfect set of gender-matched children, a supportive “no dear, I LOVE to change diapers” type of partner, a Pinterest-worthy house and a gourmet 7-course meal in the oven every night.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but it certainly feels like we’re getting that message. Nothing is ever good enough; we have to fight not only for equal footing and equal pay at work, but also weather the mommy wars at home.# At the same time, we should ignore those telling us all this discouraging news, relax, treat ourselves to a massage, live in the moment. Oh, and do that all effortlessly.

I think the exhortations telling me to relax are, perhaps, even more exhausting than those telling me to do more, as now I feel I’m being forced to relax–which is not actually relaxing in the least.

It’s no secret (unless you’re a CareerCast writer) that life in academia is stressful. As I have tenure, at least one worry is off my shoulders, but another stress comes with the promotion: now I’m responsible for mentoring not only grad and undergrad students, but our junior faculty as well. And to be honest, I’m not always sure how to advise them, even after years of reading academic blogs during my own time as a junior faculty member. My colleagues are universally pretty awesome, but the funding climate is so shitty, our teaching load is only increasing, and there’s no great remedy for any of it in sight.

And of course, it’s not only what I say to them that makes an impression; it’s also what I do. I’m worried sometimes that I send the wrong signal to people I’m mentoring when they see me working crazy hours and being in the office with my baby. I don’t want them to think they have to sacrifice a life for the job. At the same time, if I take a morning off to work from home, I worry that I send the wrong signal by not being present in the office. I can tell junior faculty and grad students to Lean In, but sometimes that can cost them. I can tell them to relax, but someone else will inevitably Kern them and get on their case for not working longer/harder.

I don’t want to make decisions for them; this is their path to walk and their choices to make. I want them to know they can come to me to chat and ask for advice, knowing they don’t have to take it and that I don’t have all the answers.

After this semester ends, I think I’m going to work on setting up something a little bit more regular to have chats with my junior colleagues. I know I was hesitant early in my career about approaching senior faculty–perhaps if I initiate more frequently, I can help them work through problems before they become seemingly insurmountable. And whatever cheesy catch phrase they want to chase, I’ll do what I can help them with that too.

What are you looking for from your senior faculty? How can we help out?

*I know the book goes beyond the cliches, but the press has certainly focused on the “rah rah do everything” rather than the more tempered advice on choices and trade-offs.

#Yes, this is a First World Problem™/upper socioeconomic status issue

10 thoughts on “On the other side of tenure

  1. I think it’s such a great idea to be proactive in chatting/mentoring junior faculty. I’m in my first year at a small teaching school and I’ve found it shockingly hard to get help/advice from anyone here. I usually just resort to knocking on the dept. head’s door when I have questions, but that’s not much mentoring. He did offer to observe me teaching in a particularly difficult course last quarter, which was nice. A female senior faculty member always tells me “you’re next” when she’s talking about children. While it kind of freaks me out (not ready for kids!) I do appreciate that she’s saying that message.
    What I would appreciate? Maybe a once a month coffee break or power walk around campus to chat about how things are going, and I could ask questions/get advice. I would LOVE to have something built in like that so I didn’t feel like I was interrupting when I knock on faculty members’ doors to ask my questions.

    Anyhow, thank you for being a good mentor to junior faculty at your institution. I’m sure people will really appreciate it- I know I would.

  2. CPP, definitely. That benefited me immensely. Right now they do have some other people since I’ve only been here since August, but critically important for them to maintain those connections.

  3. What worked for me, in the end, was to email my supervisor when I needed to, with an encapsulation of the problem (some data I couldn’t figure out, or the draft abstract of something, or just something else around the lab or students). At the same time, I would suggest an appointment time. He was very good in printing out and reading my ‘problem’ and getting back to me with confirmation of a time, then when we met we were both literally on the same page and could start the conversation. I guess this would work in the reverse – if it doesn’t work out to have a regular timeslot, you could email the ‘juniors’ you are mentoring and suggest a time and a topic for discussion.

    Otherwise, I sense you are falling into the guilt trap. I’ve been there, and I try to advise people to do what I say and not what i did. What I DID was feel guilty if i spent extra time in the lab, guilty if I spent it at home, guilty if I did housework, guilty if i did gardening on the weekends, guilty if I rushed preparation of lectures, guilty if I got enthusiastic and did too much prep….etc etc. I sense this is where you are at. Please try to realise you can order your life and do not need to feel guilty. Don’t know how, but now what I SAY is to look at yourself in the mirror every day and say three times with different intonations “I will not feel guilty”. It is just destructive, it serves no other purpose.

    • Heh. I have come to accept the guilt and just do what I can to deal with it. Honestly that’s one part of the planning and making lists that I mentioned in my last post–as long as I can at least say, “ok, I can’t get to this today, but it’s on my list to get to next week” etc. it helps to reduce the guilt factor. Telling myself “I will not feel guilty” for me is just as bad as someone ordering me to relax–not constructive.

  4. Regular chats sounds like a great move. As a new faculty member in a very large department, but one with very few other Assistant Professors, it has been had to feel like I am really getting to know more than the one tenured faculty member who is my designated mentor. I’ve had coffee with several people, but that seems to be it. Folks are certainly friendly, but I feel like it would be nice if they asked me to coffee, or beer, rather than me having to reach out in all cases. I’d rather not wait until I have a problem that I need to ask someone about––I’d like to be learning about the culture here through regular interactions with a variety of different faculty members. It seems hard to get past the1 “hello, I’m new here” coffee, to more regular, substantial conversations without interest from both sides. Not sure what I can do, and I wish more faculty were like you!

    • I feel for you. That’s how I was in my early years as an assistant prof, and even in later years, I got most of my best mentoring online–I just didn’t feel that many of the senior faculty were really committed to helping. Trying to avoid junior faculty feeling the same way about me.

  5. Pingback: Tenure, She Wrote Turns One! | Tenure, She Wrote

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