I recently received feedback from multiple colleagues that frustrates me: they said I should be traveling more, particularly to give seminars at other universities. The idea is that, since I am coming up for tenure in three years, I should present my work to as wide an audience as I can in case any future tenure letter writers are in the audience. When I heard this from multiple sources, part of me thought, “Makes sense.” And part of me panicked: How can I possibly travel more than I already do?
In the last year, my husband (also an academic, but not in a travel-heavy field) has been away for 15 nights due to work-related travel, and I have been away for 49 nights for work-related travel. Like those figures about how much time in our life we spend online (23 hours per week, according to some sources) it was astonishing to me to total the number of days I have been away for this blogpost. My travel was across six conferences, five external seminars, and field work. And that was cutting many trips short – I often spend only two-three nights at conferences. I am not someone who travels enough to get status on plane carriers, which makes me wonder how much some of the superstars in my field must travel. One professor I tried to invite to give a seminar in my department told me he couldn’t because he restricts himself to three trips per month and was already overquota for next fall. Amidst teaching I think 49 nights is a fair amount of time to be away. I’ll also add that I have never turned down a seminar request. The number of nights we’ve traveled this year feels like a lot of time to be away from our small child, who is now 18 months old.
Being away from my family tugs at my heartstrings, but more than that I wonder about how my students in the classroom and the lab would feel if I traveled more. I do like giving my TAs and lab members the opportunity to lecture in my courses when I’m away; guest lecturing as a graduate student was the best preparation I got for what actually leading a course is like. But this year a couple of my evaluations mentioned feeling frustrated when guest lecturers came to class and the pace or style of presentation changed from mine. I didn’t mind this much, but find it hard to imagine to having more than four lectures done by someone else in a 14-week semester; technically if we miss more than two weeks of class, we are to notify our chair and Dean, but I wonder if others ignore this.
I particularly miss being around my lab when I travel; I now have four full-time members and multiple undergraduates, and keeping track of their respective projects is extremely difficult when I am traveling a lot. It always takes the day of my return to catch back up with email and so I feel my finger is off the pulse of the lab for much longer than my actual trip takes. I want my lab to have access to me for help, and I think we all work best when they can ask me quick questions or I can cast an eye over output that looks strange. We are a computational lab, so troubleshooting code together is usually very productive for us but often works best when done as the problem first arises.
So here’s my plan: 1) I emailed a few friends at peer institutions to ask them to invite me to give seminars. That was fruitful, once I got over the initial awkwardness. It especially helped to email young recently-tenured folks – they knew exactly why I was asking and went out of their way to accommodate me. 2) I am proposing more conference symposia than I have in the past (bonus, as female organizers increase gender representation in speaker lists!). 3) I am also not worrying about this feedback very much. In the end, my field is small and I think I can do a lot to get my name out there more by publicizing recent publications and sending them to senior folks in my field (or asking my mentors to stump for me). But I am puzzled about the best ways to stay in touch with the lab while away: I know Skype can work well, but I’d like to hear from others. I guess I find it hard to deal with Skype meetings for each of my lab members while traveling to a conference where I need to attend talks, and often being in a different time zone. What do you do to be accessible to your lab when traveling? What has worked well for you (as a mentor or mentee), and what didn’t?
Wish me luck with this next year of travel! Maybe I’ll finally achieve Premier status on United.