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NaNoBloMo 2010 – 4 what is work?

5 November, 2010

NaNoBloMo 4 — What is work?

Today, I went in to the office, and advised a student. For an hour. And then another one. And then I had lunch, quickly. And then I advised a couple more students. In between, I tidied my desk, marked a few quizzes, caught up on my email (sort of, I have 1003 emails in my box that I haven’t even read but right now an organization for which I am an officer is having elections, and I have to keep up with the listserv), tried to ring LDW, read three newspaper articles, I took a couple ten-minute breaks (I’ve got leechblock set) and liked a few things on facebook, checked requirements for a couple of minors for tomorrow’s advising, updated Blackboard with revisions for assignments (which required actually reading through some stuff) for the survey courses for the rest of semester. And then my day was over.

I know lots of us have days like this. The thing is, these days always make me feel as though I haven’t got anything done. And yet, almost all of that is part of my job. That is, I am paid actual money (albeit not much) to do these things. Nevertheless, admin days and advising days never really feel like productive days. I think this is in part just me, but more, it’s our training. Even though we know when we are students that our professors are working when they are talking to us, and that they write, and that they go to meetings — and teach, obviously — I’m not sure it ever sinks in properly how much time is sucked away by those things. The messages we get in grad school are to avoid meetings and anything that keeps us from researching and writing. Teaching, when we do it, is the price we pay to be in grad school. For some of us, teaching is in fact why we went to grad school. We wanted to teach. In some ways, that’s probably a very good thing. But in others, at least in my case, it meant that i cultivated early a habit of placing my teaching and my students ahead of my research. Research was the price I paid to be allowed to teach.

It’s taken me a long time to get to where I not only appreciate, but also enjoy, research. But like most faculty in the US, the primary focus of my position is teaching. This is a wonderful thing, and suits me. In fact, it’s the job I would have wanted more than anything in grad school — a position with minimal publication requirements, a (relatively) heavy teaching load, and (on paper) not too many service demands. And yet on days that I teach four classes (usually two lectures, two seminars, all different levels, usually 3 preps), I come home feeling as if I haven’t accomplished much — except on the really interesting and weird days where the students and I go unexpected places with fun and stimulating results. I can spend two hours in a meeting putting together a policy that will affect the next several student cohorts, or the way we spend money on technology, or facilitating a workshop for my colleagues, and at the end of the day, all I can see is the work, especially the scholarship, that I haven’t got ’round to.

I’m sure some of it is conditioned. My professional journals tell me I should carve out time for my own work in the same way the rest of the media tell me I should be thinner. And maybe that’s it. It’s our work. It serves us, and us alone. We’re paid to do it, but for those of us not in serious research-oriented institutions, it’s something that is supposed to be fit into our schedules on top of the teaching and service, even when it makes up a significant part of the evaluation process. For me, no matter how many times I read that it’s perfectly normal to get little research done during the year, I still feel like an underachiever, especially on days like today. One of the things that sometimes enhances the stress and the guilt is also a gendered issue. At SLACs like mine, I think female faculty are also expected to be more nurturing than the male faculty are. The guys I work with are by and large much better at putting their own work first and saying no to things than are my female colleagues. Either that or they just don’t talk about it much. I know in my own case, there is a lot of baggage that comes with me putting my own work first. In fact, I’m working on a homework assignment for my therapist* — I have to do three nice things for myself this week, things that make me feel like I am being taken care of. And there is a little voice in the back of my head that says that probably, she doesn’t mean sitting and reading a journal or writing a review, although those are the things I plan on doing. And maybe buying a Sunday paper and letting myself read through all of it while drinking coffee. Why? I have too much work to to do, even though it’s work that will feel like I got nothing done when it’s finished!

Anyway, I have no great wisdom on this. In fact, I’d really just like to ask you all how pervasive this feeling is, and what you do to combat it.

*yeah. Work-related stress.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 November, 2010 5:33 pm

    Sorry you are feeling enough stress to feel the need for a therapist, but glad you are doing something about it. Best wishes.

  2. 5 November, 2010 6:19 pm

    Steve, no worries. I'm honestly more worried about the 'what is work' question in the long run. Thanks, though 🙂

  3. 8 November, 2010 4:45 pm

    I have been struggling so much with this since arrival in post here. Everything is work and there are no fixed hours except meetings and meals. When do I do what? I know that as yet my load is not too heavy but I am still not juggling commitments correctly, and when today the final proofs of my book (which I did, of course, in the previous job and, mainly, when doing nothing but research) arrived today demanding return by Wednesday, when I have a lecture to deliver (Vikings! yay!)… well, I did not despair but those in the rooms next to me may have heard me express my frustration. I think it mainly annoys me because it refuses sorting into obsessive-compulsive piles which can then be alternated, which is how I get through most other things. (Yeah, a therapist would probably have something to say about that.)So far I have been combatting this feeling by making time to see other people. Not too much, but at least once or twice a week, space for time with others that I can look forward to. This seems to help anchor me in humanity and remind me that there are other reasons to exist than all these demands to succeed. I don't know how practical that is for you but if it is, I recommend it. All best wishes meanwhile!

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