In graduate school, I took up crafting — knitting, sewing, embroidering, quilting, making magnets and sock monkeys and jam? I tried them all. I’ve always liked working with my hands, and the grass roots, eco-friendly nature of the DIY movement was really appealing to me. I also enjoyed learning more about what have traditionally been women’s activities. Embroidering science quotes on pillows felt subversive and oddly empowering. I made me feel closer to my grandmother. It gave me something to do. It was a creative outlet. I met new people, and saved money on holiday gifts. My grad student friends and I would meet for weekend stitch-n-bitches and support each other through tough times.
Crafting also helped my mental health. Watching an episode of Buffy or Alias at night to unwind, I’d find myself unable to relax until I discovered that crocheting silenced that persistent little voice saying “Why aren’t you working?” Because I was working! I was making something! My overachieving neurotic brain was just as satisfied by stitches as by words. I was able to relax, and concentrate on Sidney Bristow kicking ass instead of the pervasive feelings that I wasn’t good enough.
When I started my faculty position, I stopped. I don’t know why. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that self-care is one of the first things to go when you’re busy. Continue reading
It was mentioned repeatedly during my on-campus interview: there was a pre-tenure sabbatical after year three. Having already taught at an R1, I knew pre-tenure sabbaticals were a rare and wonderful gift. Even in my first year, I was already imagining all that I could accomplish during this year away from teaching.
The amount of research you can accomplish without a pre-tenure sabbatical varies depending on the orientation, culture, and organizational structure of the institution. My SLAC operates using shared governance and a teacher-scholar model. (Terms that were all new to me 2.5 years ago) Our model of shared-governance features a compressed administrative bureaucratic structure – no provosts, no chancellors, and few deans (a much-needed option in this era of the corporatization of institutions of higher ed). But here is the hitch: this shared governance model requires that almost every faculty member (T-T, tenured, adjunct, etc.) engage in quite a bit of service work. Thus, this sabbatical would be a welcome break from not only teaching, but also an unusually heavy service load.
Both the casual conversation and the language in the faculty handbook regarding reappointment at years 1,2, and 3 focused almost entirely on assessment of teaching (thus the teacher-scholar model). I was actively advised to focus on teaching (with an implicit suggestion that research should or could (??) take the back burner in these early years). Continue reading
My tenure packet is wending its way through the nearly year-long process, and while I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, all signs point to me having a job here in the future. My teaching load and service load have already seen step function increases, and I’m starting to acknowledge that I am finally, well and truly, mid-career. It appears that this professor gig is what I’m going to do with my life. Now what?
With job security in the offing, there’s a world of possibilities out there that aren’t constrained by what my PhD committee, search committee, or tenure committee will think of my choices. With job security in the offing, I can make choices that aren’t simply to always push for that extra paper or next grant proposal in case that’s the make-or-break statistic for my tenure portfolio. It’s liberating to be able to make those choices, but it’s also daunting. What do I want to do with my life? Now what?
Now that I don’t have to simply calculate what the highest-short-term-reward-least-time-cost item is on my to-do list, I can actually decide what I want to do with my research time over the next few years and beyond. Do I want to stay the course and continue to focus on the topic where I have been making progress over the last several years? Do I want to pick up some lost threads from earlier in my career? Do I want to pivot – slightly or acutely – and explore new directions? Now what?
July 2007 (Vintage SciWo)
I will not be a foregone conclusion.
Sometimes I get depressed when I read the blogs of other women scientists – particularly when the topic of children vs. an academic career is the topic du jour. The short version is that many of us seem to think we have two choices: (1) Have a career and no children, or children we never see; or (2) Give up our plans for t-t/research academia in order to raise a family. That we can’t be both academic researchers and fantastic parents seems to be a foregone conclusion.
Well, I refuse to be a foregone conclusion. Continue reading
Time on the tenure track is like being in labor. It is like five or more exhilarating and painful years of labor, with the promise of a hard-earned and beautiful reward at the end. Just as every labor and birth story has its own arc, every person’s time on the tenure track will have unique plot twists and challenges, and sometimes the outcome is heart-breaking.* The process of birthing, whether a baby or a tenure package, isn’t always what we had idealized.
Acknowledging these variations, if we proceed with the analogy anyway, then there a few generalized stages of the process: early labor, active labor, pushing the baby out, and delivering the placenta. In early labor and active labor, mothers experience contractions that dilate or open the cervix, making a passage big enough for the baby. On the tenure track, those contractions are the periods of intense busyness (and often stress) that we periodically experience in the years leading up to tenure. Each contraction, hopefully, results in some product — a paper or grant submitted or revised, a student defended, a new course taught — that moves us closer to our goal of tenure. Continue reading