Showing posts with label profession. Show all posts
Showing posts with label profession. Show all posts

Sunday, August 27, 2017

office

It's been faculty orientation week at my university, so my colleagues and I are meeting up after a long summer of working in places other than our campus, and this conversation keeps happening:

pretty much every colleague: Hey, how are you?
me: !!! I have a new office !!!
pretty much every colleague: um, okay...that's nice

After the third or fourth time someone gave me the side eye, I realized my excitement about having a new office might be slightly over the top. Why is that?

It's a little bit relief. Last year, my first year as a postdoctoral teaching fellow, I was using the office of a colleague who was on sabbatical, and I was perpetually stressed out about being responsible for the musical instruments, digital camera equipment, and files stored there.

It's a little bit convenience. Things related to my work that have been taking up space in my apartment are now in my office, you know, the place where work happens.

Really, though, it's mostly feeling valued. I've been teaching since 2005, at a variety of universities with a variety of job titles, assigned to a variety of shared office spaces. Because these offices have been shared with other graduate or adjunct instructors, the indentured servants of higher ed in the American twenty-first century, they've usually been spaces that no one else wanted--windowless, basement, interior rooms--filled with furniture no one else wanted. Some have been only big enough for a single desk, shared by 4 or 6 or 10 people who had to work out a rota for use. Some have been big enough for lots of desks, shared by 2 or 3 people each, with no walls to help tune out distraction. These rooms becomes the departmental storage areas, too, for back issues of print journals that no one ever reads, for surplus textbooks that are out of date, for student papers that others leave behind when they move on to the next job. Most graduate and adjunct instructors leave very little in these spaces, carrying everything we need into and out of the building each day, like turtles with our offices on our backs, pausing briefly in our communal space.

These overcrowded spaces furnished with cast-offs and full of the detritus of the department are a reflection of the value universities have for the graduate teaching assistants and adjunct instructors who teach many of the courses on the schedule. Like the meager paychecks they get, it's a reminder that they are at the end of the line when it comes to resource allocation.

So, after twelve years of working in this field, after twelve years of making do with scratch-and-dent, after twelve years of negotiating shared space with near-strangers, after twelve years of carrying my office on my back,  I have a space that is mine. I've moved up slightly in the line. And it feels ridiculously good.

It's tiny, but it's a window. 

The rocking chair and coat tree are mine, other furniture came with. 

Check out that diploma on the wall. 


I mean, it would be nice if the university valued me enough to pay an actual living wage, but for now I'll take the office and celebrate it. Stop by for a cup of tea and celebrate with me.





Monday, August 3, 2015

be the tortoise, not the hare

I measure my life in tally marks these days.



At the end of each 25-minute pomodoro of dissertation,  I make a tally mark on a piece of paper on my desk. Then I reset the timer and get up from the desk for 5 minutes of not-writing.

I'm at the stage of the dissertation process where I can feel it starting to gather energy as we roll down a steep hill. It's tempting to embrace the heady momentum and stay at the keyboard for hours at a stretch.

That way lies madness, though. Taking my hands off the breaks and my feet off the pedals and giving myself over wholly to the writing means forgetting to cook or even buy groceries. It means forgetting to make important phone calls and pay bills. After a few days, I have no brain for words and no energy for thinking and the life outside of my desk is in shambles. I've done that before, and I always hate myself for it.

So, now I aim for six poms a day, every day but Sunday. Most days, I make it to six tally marks by mid afternoon and then come back to the desk for two more poms (and two more tally marks!) in the evening.

Making myself stop feels like a bizarre kind of discipline.

I can attest that it is a fruitful discipline, though. The document on my computer is growing longer and more complex. The rest time away from the keyboard often leads to connections among chapters and solutions to knotty problem spots.

This is a mountain stage, not a sprint.

And the tortoise wins.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

not pretty

I've unfollowed a couple of my colleagues on Facebook recently. Their well-deserved joy at their own progress has been feeding the monster of my impostor syndrome.

One Colleague: Just cut a 60 page chapter down to ten pages for conference presentation!
In my head: 60 page chapter?!?! Who does that? Are my chapters so short that my committee will just tell me to quit? What am I missing?

Other Colleague: Writing my acknowledgements! Submitting the defense paperwork!
In my head: I'm happy for other colleague, who has worked hard, but I started first. What have I been doing all this time? Why didn't I work harder?

Still Other Colleague: Finishing up an r&r. It's so much easier the second time.
In my head: The second time? A second article accepted? *sob*

I don't begrudge my friends their celebration of their accomplishments. Really, I don't. This job is hard, and often lonely, and we need to invite others to celebrate with us when we get something done. Yay, my colleagues!

I'm not interested in beating my colleagues in the marathon that is the dissertation process, either, but I'm having a really hard time continuing to run while being lapped.  I'm already a year behind where I wanted to be, and even knowing that I spent that year becoming a damn fine head of household and executor of estate is little consolation.

As with the tendency toward photos of clean, smiling children and tidy houses on social media, academics' posts about our writing tend to present more the good parts than the bad parts, which leads to a skewed impression of what the academic writing process looks like.

So, here's a shout out to any other graduate students who are struggling:

 It's not pretty over here. My prose looks like shit. A significant number of my footnotes say, "FIND SOURCE!!!" I've fallen out of love with my dissertation several times now. My books are all in boxes  < snark > because moving in the middle of a dissertation was a great idea < /snark>. I'm slogging.

If any of that resonates with your experience, here's a fist bump of solidarity: p#d

Friday, September 26, 2014

breadwinner

Two Mays ago Old Cat's death was hard on all of us. It was especially hard for me to watch our younger cat Jack wonder where she had gone.  When Jack came into our lives as a strapping young boy, Old Cat was already old, and, although smaller than he was, she boxed his ears and told him in no uncertain terms that she was #1 Cat. She had first claim to my lap, to my bed, to any open doors, and to the food. For weeks after she died, when I set the food down Jack looked around to see if she was coming before he started to eat. He looked at me with disbelief that it could be just for him. This past January when Buttercup came into our lives, Jack went into a tailspin again. He knew he didn't want to be #2 Cat to this young brat, but he didn't know how to be #1 Cat.

As I've been working on job applications these past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm a little bit like Jack. While I wouldn't say that I was subordinate to my late husband, I had settled into my role as the trailing spouse, the one whose career would always happen in the space around the breadwinner's career. There were a lot of practical reasons that Adam would always be the breadwinner: Because his age and his co-op experience put him ten years ahead of me in career development, because he was an engineer, and I am a language teacher, because he was a man, and I am a woman, his salary would always have outstripped mine. For most of our marriage, in fact, my contribution to the family's income was ten percent of his.

When I started my PhD, the desired plan was that I would find work within daily or weekly commuting distance from Rambling Farmhouse, working as an adjunct until something full-time or tenure track came up. As things got worse for Adam at his workplace here, we started talking about my doing a national search for full-time work and moving the whole family to whatever I found, but it still had to be a geographic area within a daily or weekly commute to something for Adam.

My trailing spouse status was not only a result of our relative earning potentials, though. It was also about the difference in how driven we were. Adam always wanted to reach higher; he wanted to manage a group of engineers, to run a multi-million dollar project, to move the company from good to great, to start his own business, to work at the cutting edge. Me? I don't crave leadership. I don't burn to see my name on a publication. I don't aspire to eminent scholar status. I don't settle for shoddy, but I'll never be a rock star researcher. My elbows aren't sharp enough, and I don't own brass knuckles. I want to do what I love and do it well, and really, that's the perfect attitude for a trailing spouse.

I don't get to have that attitude anymore.

Insurance settlements and Social Security payments buy me some time retool the plan, but they will not last forever. As they cease to fill the coffers each month, I have to take this career that was intended to be secondary and find a way to support myself, my children, and our critters in the present while also preparing for college and retirement in the future. All of a sudden, I'm the #1 Cat, but no one is offering me first choice of the food each night.

I have to be the breadwinner, and it frightens me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

chalk

I have a classroom again, and the happiness I derive from this is perhaps bordering on the ridiculous.

The job of a professor is generally described as having three parts: the teaching part, the research and publication part, and the service to the university and to the profession part. While most professors do each part, rare is the person who excels at all three.

Me? I excel at the teaching part, and that's the part I love.

It's also the part that I was forced to give up when I became a widow, and I have resented that. A lot.

Having a classroom, I feel like a professional again. Feeling like a professional, I feel like a whole person.

It's only two classes and only for this semester, but I don't think I've ever been this excited about chalk.