Sunday, January 29, 2006


I knew this was going to be a busy week, but it wasn't until I looked at my calendar this evening that I saw just how busy. My PDA's calendar (I have an ancient PDA) has this feature where you can see your week "graphically", with bars where you have things scheduled. My blocks for Monday and Tuesday are *solid* from 10am until well into the afternoon/evening (5:30 one day, 4:30 the other). This includes 2 lunch meetings. Gah. And Wednesday is not much better, although at least I don't have a lunch meeting that day.

I remember at one point last year, one of my senior colleagues came in to my office and asked me some question about some future event we were planning, and I said "let me bring up my calendar". When he saw my calendar, he actually gasped out loud. "Oh my god! Tell me your weeks don't normally look like that," he said. "Actually," I said, "this is pretty typical." He was appalled. There was some talk of figuring out ways to lighten my service load, or figure out some way to make my schedule less filled, but as you can tell nothing much came out of that.

I'm pretty good at saying no, most of the time. The problem is that what's important to me is sometimes at odds with what my school thinks I should be doing. For instance, I have assigned service responsibilities---some top-level (school-wide), some departmental. I suppose I could get out of these if I really raised a fuss, but the mentality here is that you do your share to help out. I'd much rather spend my time and energy mentoring students, supervising undergraduate researchers, working on issues that are personally important to me, but if I want to do these, then I have to do them as sort of a "voluntary overload"; they won't get me out of my other service commitments. Which I suppose is fair on some higher level, but what it means is that sometimes I have weeks that look like big blobs of obligations with precious little time for research, for class prep--for eating lunch, even!

I think it's a good thing when our senior colleagues become aware of the "real lives" of junior faculty. We're all way overscheduled, shouldering heavy burdens, asked to do so much while still trying to establish ourselves as researchers and teachers. That's not to say that the senior faculty are not pulling their weight--quite the contrary! But I think they sometimes forget what it's like at the early stages of an academic career, how stressful and hectic these times are, how hard it can be to balance everything. Perhaps if we continue to subtly remind them of this, they will one day help us figure out how to lighten our loads.


Lisa, Paper Chaser said...

I hate it when I schedule like this!!

The Leaky Pipeline said...

I have just set up a blog to compile information for female scientists starting their reserach careers. I am hoping women will send me comments about their experience as female researchers and ideas about where to get advice and avoid discrimination. I thought you might be able to help.

My blog is at The Leaky Pipeline.

C said...

I'm sorry, I'm finding it hard to reconcile the bit where you say
"Oh my god! Tell me your weeks don't normally look like that," he said. "Actually," I said, "this is pretty typical." He was appalled. and the bit where you say but the mentality here is that you do your share to help out.

If your heavy load was the fair share that everyone else has, including him, then why was he so appalled?

Jane said...

C, you're right, that is a bit confusing. The point I was trying to make is that senior faculty (and department chairs specifically) should, in theory, make sure to protect the time of junior faculty--so that we have time to develop our courses, get our research programs going, and earn tenure. And that's the party line that's trotted out from time to time. But in practice, this rarely happens--even when a senior faculty person becomes aware that a junior person is way overcommitted, there's not a lot of guidance as to what can be dropped, and it's not clear what the consequences are of dropping a university-wide commitment vs. a department commitment, a high-profile ad-hoc committee vs. a committee appointment, etc. I totally get the need to keep the university and the department running, and that faculty need to take ownership of that, but I wish there was more freedom here to determine how to partition your service time, and more transparency in terms of what *is* and *is not* important in the grand scheme of things. (I hope that's a bit clearer!)