As I approach the end of the first half of my third year an Assistant professor, I look back on the semester and feel disappointed in myself. I have been what feels remarkably unproductive. My first two years were spent frantically prepping new classes, and now that I’ve got all repeats this semester has seemed tame. Frankly, I had gotten used to always just barely keeping up, as I found the transition to teaching difficult. Everyone told me that it would get easier, and it certainly has. Is it possible it got too easy?
My job is supposed to be research AND teaching, which means I need to be taking those extra hours and devoting them to writing grants and manuscripts. I’ve really dropped the ball in that regard. I haven’t done a single bit of manuscript writing all semester, and only submitted one of the three grants I was going to apply for. I do have new research projects starting up under a cohort of graduate students, but for the most part I’m letting the students take the lead…. perhaps too much so. I recently realized that I haven’t been giving them as much direction and feedback as they need and deserve.
So where has my time gone? To life. My work-life balance has swung a bit too far in the ‘life’ direction. This is something I struggled with during the doldrums of graduate school, and during my time as a postdoc with a terrible mentor who made me really not want to work. This time around I’ve been socializing, mainlining tv series on Netflix, and gaming… sometimes all three at once. It certainly is fun and relaxing, but at the same time is really stressful – because I know there are things I should be doing. Video game addiction is a real, serious problem, but I don’t think I’m quite there. I am, however, not working *quite* as hard as I think I need to be to stay on track for tenure.
Now that I know there is a problem, how do I fix it? It has always been hard for me to motivate when there aren’t class deadlines (either as a student or a teacher). During my research postdoc, I kept track of my productive working hours, which worked well to get my a** into gear towards the end of a lazy week. I targeted and achieved an average 37.5 hour work week over the year. I continued to track my work hours in the Fall semesters of both my first and second years as a professor, and averaged 50 hours a week – which seemed pretty reasonable if a touch high for a long-term goal. I actually have no idea what my ‘hours’ of productivity are these days, but I would guess back down in the 35-40 hour a week range.
Is that really that bad? Should I feel guilty? I don’t know. If I’m doing a good job teaching (and I have definitely improved and am learning to like it) and making decent research progress, a number shouldn’t be important. I get the impression that my friends at R1 institutions put in a lot more time. However, one of the reasons I took the job I have is that it does provide an opportunity for work-life balance, so comparing myself to them may not be that helpful. Maybe it’s ok to be good rather than great, and a little laziness isn’t the end of the world. But I know after this semester that I need to find a balance that I’m comfortable with, and I’m not quite there yet.