Friday, December 29, 2006

Overwhelmed? Frazzled? Or normal? You decide

This is going to be an unusual sort of anniversary post---the blog turns 2 today! Hard to believe that I've kept this going for 2 years. Other than my junior high diary (shudder), this is the first time I've been able to keep up any sort of journalling for longer than a week. I guess I just needed an external audience for my personal musings in order to keep up the motivation. Go figure.

Anyway, so I was wondering how I was going to mark the passing of another year in the blogworld, and not really coming up with anything good or inspired. Until I returned from my "vacation", checked the blog, and found this comment to my previous post:

"I notice throughout your blog you keep coming off as if you are frazzled or overwhelmed. This continuous state is a problem for you. Why don't you fix it? ... The main thing is that you spend too much time on the unimportant and whining about it at that. How much time and energy is it robbing of [sic]? You are literally vampiring your own energy."

(In a subsequent comment, the commenter clarified that this comment came out of concern that I was taking on too much, and was not a complaint about the content of the blog per se. And I believe this was motivated by kindness and concern, not maliciousness.)

This got me thinking about a bunch of things (my first reaction: am I whiny?? do I really complain too much? waaaaaah), but I finally settled on the whole question of Blog Persona. What persona do I reflect here, is it accurate, and what are my responsibilities in terms of this persona? More specifically, when I talk about things like being frazzled and overwhelmed on the blog, what is my motivation for doing so?

I like to think that the persona I present here is multi-faceted: Woman. Computer Scientist. Woman computer scientist. Teacher. Researcher. Mentor. Assistant Professor. Athlete. Wife. Friend. Future Mother. You get the idea. In looking at my posts, though, it seems like a few of these personalities come out more often than others. In particular, especially recently, I've tended to focus on the Assistant Professor persona in my posts, because I've been posting a lot more lately about the whole work-life balance thing, and when you are junior faculty the whole work-life balance thing becomes a particularly thorny question.*

Let's face it: one of the biggest challenges among junior faculty is figuring out the whole tenure thing, of which I would argue a large part is figuring out the whole work-work (teaching/research/service) and work-life balance thing (what do I have to do to refresh myself/retain my sanity and still earn tenure). I would argue that if you read any blog by a junior faculty person, you will see the same sort of issues I address here popping up. Frequently. Many of us are getting no or conflicting advice about how much research/teaching/service/life outside of school we "should" be doing. Many of us are trying to figure out our institutions: how to best reach and deal with the students in the classroom (and get good enough evals), which publishing venues are revered and reviled, how many pubs to have, how much and what type of service is enough, how much "face time" around the department is needed, what passes for "collegiality", etc. We are starting research programs, recruiting students, trying to get grant money. We are teaching classes for the very first time (new preps are hard!!), revising our syllabi, figuring out which assignments work and don't work, figuring out where and how to aim our courses (what is the level of our students here? probably lower than what the administration claims, but how much lower?). You know what? This alone is overwhelming and frazzling.

Most of us would also like to retain some semblance of our lives outside of school. We have relationships, interests, friends, significant others. We know we have to nurture these. But how, when we have jobs that can easily take over all waking hours of our lives, and where the pressure is just exactly that---to work all the time? Where and how do you draw the line? Especially when you have senior colleagues that just don't get the presssures on junior faculty these days---either because they've forgotten or they came up under an entirely different tenure system.

How do you figure this all out? Well, for me, I blog about it. Why? Because blogging helps me work out some of these issues, frankly. And it has: blogging has helped me see what some of my more destructive patterns are, in terms of productivity and dealing with all the daily crap. As a result, I have made changes in how I work, what I choose to work on, and how I react to and interact with my colleagues. And I'm (mostly) happier and more productive as a result.

But blogging also helps me shed light on things that I think need shedding light on. Like how overwhelming the tenure track can be under the best of circumstances. Like how the culture in CS, frankly, sucks for almost everyone, but especially women and minorities. Like how we all feel insecure about our teaching and our research at various times. And I think it's very, very important that all of us bloggers continue to talk about and shed light on these things. Change only happens when the problems are illuminated.

Do I expect change to occur as a result of my blog posts? Probably not (that would be weird, for sure). But what I do hope to accomplish is to help others feel less, well, "other". I want to help validate the experiences of my peers, by contributing my own experiences. I want to help those coming up behind me---grad students, potential future professors and women computer scientists---to understand what really goes on in this field. I want to help those above me---senior faculty, administrators---to understand what the life of a junior professor is really like these days. And so on. That's why I "whine" on this blog, and why I will continue to do so. The frazzled and overwhelmed Jane has an important place on this blog, and is an important part of this Blog Persona, and will continue to do so and be so for the forseeable future.**

(Plus, I figure that if the whining gets to be too much, the readers will leave, and this will be my sign from the universe that I should lighten up already. :) )

So that's a brief look into why I blog what I blog. I hope, Anonymous Commenter, that this answers your questions, and that you understand a bit where I'm coming from on this point. And thanks for providing the inspiration for this anniversary post.

On a lighter note, and to wrap up this obscenely long post, I want to thank all of you readers. I am thrilled and humbled (and sometimes amazed) that you have found this blog, that you continue to read this blog, that you provide such thoughtful comments and emails. I am so grateful for all of you, and for the community I've found through this blog. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart thank you!!

* I'm not saying that the whole work-life balance magically resolves itself once you get tenure. Far from it, from what I've seen. So I don't mean to dismiss work-life questions for more senior academics: it's a hard, hard question no matter where you are in your career.

** why is it that I now have the phrase "the beatings will continue until morale improves" running through my head?


ScienceWoman said...

No, Jane, thank you. You always do such an amazing job of what you are experiencing and thinking, and this post is no exception. The reasons you give for blogging are, I think, common to many of us. Bravo!

Oh, and could I please be added to your blogroll? You don't have to actually read my blog, you can just say you do.

Astroprof said...

Happy blogoversary!

No, you don't sound like you are whining. You do share your frustrations, and it is nice for the rest of us to read that others are just as frustrated as we are. And, as you say, if your readers don't like it, they can just not read.

Have a very Happy New Year!

Ms.PhD said...

Keep in mind that whining can be immensely comforting to some of your readers! We don't want to hear only the superficially pretty stuff, we want to hear what's really going on. Sometimes that means you sound frazzled. Just keep being real.

Addy N. said...

Jane: Thanks for sharing your reflections and stresses with all of us in the blogosphere! As another assistant professor, I can totally relate to your frazzled posts and being stressed. I don't have as many of those kind of posts, because when things get really out of hand, I just don't manage to blog. I can't even imagine how to articulate all the stresses that are confronting me, so I end up skipping it. Blogging is a wonderful way to put your jumbled mind into some order (for me, anyway), so I think it makes sense to have posts about stress! Keep up the great blogging!

post-doc said...

Happy anniversary! I've only been around for a little over a year, but I enjoy what you write ever so much. Whether it's snippets or struggles or how things are going well, it's real and good to know how life is looking for someone farther along in the academic path. So, thank you.

Jane said...

Awww, thanks everyone!

Sciencewoman, my blogroll is desperately in need of a makeover---I didn't realize you weren't on there! (sorry about that---I do read you regularly!) Look for it to be updated sometime in the next week. (And if anyone else sees that they are missing, please let me know, either in the comments or by email. Thanks!)

Chaser said...

FWIW, I don't think you whine. I whine, so I should know.

Happy blogaversary!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a strange comment. There are some astonishingly, endlessly whiny academic bloggers, but you are not one of them!