Saturday, May 21, 2005

News flash: Trying to be like other people is a bad thing

Yeah, ok, so maybe that's obvious, but sometimes I need a flash of the obvious to put things into focus.

I tend to do a lot of reflecting at the end of a school year. I've done this ever since I was a kid. I think about what I've accomplished, where I am, and where I'd like to be at this time next year, or in 5 years, or whatever. (Can you tell I'm a bit goal-oriented?) I reflect on the good things, the bad things, the things that make me happy, the things that drive me crazy. I take stock of how I'm feeling about myself. I think about ways to improve.

Lately, I've been very stressed out and unhappy, and I was not sure of the cause. I knew some of it was due to the normal end-of-the-year stress and burnout, but that wasn't enough to explain the depths of my stress and unhappiness. And for a while, I couldn't quite put my finger on the reason. But now, after some heavy reflection, I've figured out why.

For reasons I won't go into here, I don't have a lot of models for success within my department/program. Really, I just have one, a colleague who is a few years ahead of me on the tenure track. And, like many other schools, the tenure expectations at my school are very vaguely defined, so I'm never quite sure what I should be doing. In the absence of clear guidelines and role models, I've basically been looking to what this colleague is doing/has done and using this as a guideline for what I should be doing.

However, I've come to realize that the way this colleague works does not work for me at all. It is unhealthy and unsustainable. And it's making me bloody miserable! Above all, I find I am actually much less productive trying to work this way.

So one of the things I'm going to do this summer (as I'm putting my mid-tenure review packet together) is to figure out a style of working that works for me, that I can live with, and that will make me my most productive self.

The one thing that worries me, though, is that I will be held to the standards my colleague is setting when I go up for tenure. But if that's the case....well, if the only way I can get tenure is to work in a way and a style that makes me unhappy, then this is not a place where I want to get tenure. My sanity is much more important than living up to an impossible ideal.


Laura said...

I think about that a lot--working style. I tend to work spurts. I'll work really hard every day for a week or 10 days. Then I'll slack off for a couple of weeks. I used to worry about this because, of course, while I was slacking off, other people were working really hard. I think it's really important to find something you can live with. My experience so far with the tenure process is that tenure committees aren't as aware as you are of your colleagues' working habits.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

I think you have a great attitude about all of this. Having a solid match between work environment and yourself is important. And I agree with geeky, I don't think overall that tenure committees look so much at work habits. Departments need all kinds of people to function. They'll be thinking about what you've produced and how you fit in in that sense.

Ianqui said...

Right on. It seems like if you can produce what you need to produce for tenure, then it won't matter how you got there. Certainly your external letter writers won't have any idea of your work habits, and it's their input that's most important. So yes, try to find what works for you.

Or are we misinterpreting you--is it that you think that if you don't work like your colleague, you won't be able to produce the amount that he/she does?

Jane said...

Thanks for the words of wisdom, everyone! I guess on some level I do understand that tenure committees are not as hyper-concerned with the working habits of colleagues within the same department as I am....but it's something I often forget. And I do know that I'm on a good pace towards tenure right now, so production is not the issue. I guess my concerns are more along the lines of "if I don't supervise as many research students as my colleague, or do as much service as him, am I in trouble?" But of course, as you've all pointed out, that's a ridiculous way to think.

The other concern is that our program is somewhat new, and this colleague will really be the first one coming up for tenure as a member of this program. So part of the fear is that he gets to set the bar. (Again, a ridiculous way to think).

Turtle said...

I'm glad you figured out what's been getting to you. Always an important step in finding the way out :-). Work habits are a big one. That's one thing I find so refreshing about blogs -- when people 'confess' their real work habits. It seems that many of us aren't working as much as the rest of us think. And somehow most of us get by. The problem is that not all of us do. Although, in my limited, still a doctoral student, perspective, the reasons people *don't* get promoted seem to have so much more to do with politics and personality conflicts than with any demonstrable differences in productivity/workstyle.

Scuttlebut in my home department is that the three-year review is an important one -- that if the department's not happy with progress towards tenure that it is the departmental chair's responsibility to encourage one to consider finding a position at another institution. That's assuming ethical behavior on the part of the chair and that things are similar across different institutions. I seem to remember hearing that the third-year review is not too early a time to have a conversation with the department chair about possible external reviewers for the tenure case -- and the chair's reponse to that question can be quite informative about one's status. Supposedly the more upfront the chair is about specific expectations for # of publications, # of advisees/service items necessary for tenure the better one's status is, and that continued vagueness *may* signal a problem.

My sense is that you are on track, that the department is happy with your work, that you've got support in the larger institution, and that a main challenge is managing the inevitable gender dynamics so that you have a sense of being heard. Best wishes in finding the right balance (and apologies for my verbosity)!