Monday, February 27, 2012

Today was a a ____ day to be a professor

At the end of every day, I make a statement like, "Today was a good day to be a professor", or, "Today was a bad day to be a professor". (And some days are partly cloudy.)

It's interesting to reflect upon which activities bring me the most joy, and which are the most frustrating. So, let's see:

Favorite thing: Meeting with my RAs. They are just good kids. They are sweet, fun, and brilliant. I love sitting around and bouncing ideas around with them and solving problems together. They impress the heck out of me with all they've accomplished thus far.

Least favorite thing: Drama and politics. Every sphere of this job involves some of each. For drama, I process it on a case by case basis, and try to be as fair and understanding as I can.

For politics, I am usually completely clueless. Sometimes I'll talk to someone, and hours later realize there were hidden subtexts beyond my ability to comprehend and quickly respond to in the moment. I'm not sure if I'm poorly socialized, aloof, or both, but frankly a lot of the politics surrounding this job positively baffle me.

Unfortunately being successful as a professor seems to require political savviness, in a way very different than in industry. I felt like in industry the rules were clearer; perhaps because everyone was working toward the same goal (e.g., please the customer). Academia is more like a collection of small empires. We all have shared goals of Furthering Education and Advancing Knowledge, but go about them in very different ways. We have frequent encounters with other Dukes, where we must broadcast our land's contribution to the Kingdom at every turn.

Post the PhD level, anyone with motivation and drive can learn to prep and teach a class, acquire external funding, effectively manage a research group, and publish lots of papers in good places. Political savviness, however, is another beast entirely.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Achoo! Work life balance is a myth.

I am allergic to conversations on work life balance. Basically, they make me feel uncomfortable and guilty, which make my eyes red and itchy. (And allegra doesn't seem to make the deadlines go away...)

So I was happy to see this article in Fast Company by Craig Chappelow, "Work/Life balance is a myth; here's what you can do about it." There was no real news in the article, but I liked this a lot:
Here’s what I tell [executives]: work-life balance is a myth. That myth compels many of us to view an ideal life as a set of perfectly level scales. On the tray on one side is your personal life. On the other side is your work life. With heroic efforts, you can keep both trays exactly level. If one starts to tip too far, you make some kind of nifty move that balances them again.

In reality, that perfect balance almost never occurs, except for those rare, fleeting moments when the trays pass each other on the way up or down--and we’re too frazzled to appreciate that brief moment of self-actualization anyway.
In professional life (both academically and previously in industry), I tend to find it's feast or famine. There are times when everything is going nuts, and there are times when things are calm, peaceful, and somewhat boring.

In personal life, things are usually calm, peaceful, and somewhat boring with occasional intense, dramatic moments. Some of these dramatic moments are quick and minor (flat tire, broken furnace, lost filling, puking child), some of these moments are lengthy and painful (health decline / death of family members, financial worries, etc).

It is not possible to predict when dramatic moments will occur in real life, and it's only a little bit possible to predict when fires will happen in professional life. So I tend to agree that having work life balance is a bit of a myth.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kudos, Zach Weiner!

Today's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal totally made my day.


Monday, February 6, 2012

My favorite Google easter eggs

Teaching prep is killing me this semester, so I think it's time for cheap thrills. Here are my favorite Google easter eggs:
1) Search for "do a barrel roll"

2) Search for "tilt" (or "askew")

3) Search for "anagram"

4) Search for "recursion"
The last one is my favorite. More to come in t-minus 53 days!