Advising As A Form Of Activism

Wendy ChristensenWendy M. Christensen is an assistant professor of sociology at William Paterson University. Her research interests center on how inequalities and institutions — like the media, the military and the family — contribute to limiting political engagement. You can follow her on Twitter @wendyphd.


Undergraduate advisement is a chore that few academics want. Advising means more emails, more questions and more meetings. The weeks leading up to registration will be packed, and students will email into the summer months with questions about registering. Despite this time and energy, advising often does not count much toward tenure, reappointment and promotion.

But I admit it — advising is one of the best parts of my job. I love teaching, but connecting with students one-on-one gives me the opportunity to know them as people. Advising is more than guiding students through graduation requirements and academic bureaucracy. It is one of the most powerful ways we can reach vulnerable students who need guidance to get through and succeed in college. Frankly, advising is one of the most important kinds of activism that we do as professors.

Through advising, I have learned that most of my students work full time, and many have children and family to support. Most pay for college through a patchwork of loans and grants, and some get to classes via a patchwork of public transportation, after working night shifts. These are our most vulnerable college students. First-generation students are often a single crisis, job move or financial change away from a failing grade — and from dropping out of college altogether.

First-gen students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds diminish overall school retention rates and are the most likely to drop out of college. In fact, only 11 percent of low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college will have a college degree within six years of enrolling in school, according to the Pell Institute. The reasons for this are numerous. For one, first-gen students might have less support off campus and lack necessary support on it, as well.

American colleges and universities are built on the premise each college student goes to school full time, only works part time (if at all), lives on campus and does not have a family to support or care for. Colleges measure completion rates in terms of graduating within four to six years, even though that milestone is difficult to achieve for many nontraditional students.

Even with precollege orientations, success in college requires “college capital” that too many of these students lack. They do not necessarily know what is expected of them, what terms like “syllabus” mean or how to study independently.

When facing a room of first-year students, I try to remember what it was like for me, sitting in my first graduate seminar, feeling ashamed that I did not know what “peer review” meant. We must remember that all of us come to college with different or even partial and limited knowledge.

Most often, first-generation college students do not realize that there is support on campuses, including tutoring, counseling and other services and resources. Many tend to be too shy or proud to seek out help, and they are the shiest about advocating for themselves. Combined with their already vulnerable socioeconomic position, it is not surprising that most of them drop out.

Retention research shows that connections with faculty members outside the classroom make a huge difference in whether a student drops out. If we want to help marginalized students through the often-overwhelming and mysterious process of earning an undergraduate degree, advising is one of the most powerful ways that we can do it.

The one time that I get to connect with each of my advisees is during their registration advisement meeting. At the beginning of that meeting, I always ask a crucial question: “How is your semester going?” I make sure to turn from my computer and make eye contact with them, listening to their answer carefully. I ask follow-up questions. Are they having a typically busy semester? Are more serious issues brewing?

I am not always prepared for what my advisees say, but the following come up with regularity and I have developed ways to respond:

  • If they express exasperation with a certain course, I give them strategies for talking to the professor and getting other help.
  • If they dread their data analysis course (which is frequently the case), I talk with them about tutoring resources, opening up a bit about my own math anxiety.
  • If they are having an issue — say, an illness or a crisis — that impacts all of their classes, I call the dean of students on their behalf to make an appointment so that appropriate documentation can be provided to all their professors.
  • If a student has lost their job and child care, then together we call the child care center on campus to ask for resources to help out.
  • If athletes open up about the crushing stress they are feeling, I validate those feelings, explaining that no one can deal with so much by oneself. I get the counseling center on the phone for them and follow up with their coach.

Other times, a student might explain that she is being stalked by an ex and that she is afraid to go to her night class. Together, we will call campus security and get someone to walk her to and from class. Student veterans often notice the many war-related books in my office and open up about their service. I refer them to our veterans’ center, recognizing how difficult a transition it is from service to college. And sometimes I am able to call financial aid and start the emergency aid process for students. Given my own problems with financial aid in college — many times I was deregistered from classes because loan money had not trickled in yet — being able to help out feels great.

Of course, those students could do such things on their own, but they often do not know what resources are out there or whom to call, or they are afraid to pick up the phone. First-gen students, in particular, often do not know what resources are available on the campus or what various offices do. They need to know not to feel ashamed if they need help. I open up with my advisees and share my own college history of anxiety, failed classes, financial struggle and the like, so they see that someone who has experienced those hurdles can succeed.

Following up with your advisees is vital. After I meet with a student, I send them an email with meeting notes and instructions for next steps about an issue with counseling, another professor or the dean of students. The email also includes a list of campus resources. They can use the email as a to-do list and reply to me if they have further questions.

Yes, this is a lot of exhausting emotional labor. And we know it largely falls on women faculty and faculty of color. Perhaps part of our reluctance to counsel students has to do with all that emotional work we must do when we advise. In the classic model of college education, we professors are to impart students with knowledge from a safe distance, lecturing to a sea of faces in a lecture hall. Mentorships ought to focus on learning and knowledge, planning a course of study for graduation. There is no room in that model for what might seem like hand-holding and mollycoddling. But if we want college to work for everyone — especially students on the margins — we have to teach to, and advise for, those most vulnerable students.

It is possible to advise students by meeting with them, looking at their record, telling them what classes to take and sending them on their way. I am sure that describes a lot of advising. But advising can be so much more powerful — and even a form of activism to challenge existing class-based disparities in higher education. It is an opportunity for us to reach first-generation and marginalized students — those who often do not have support systems and safety nets in place. This is one place in which we can make a huge difference as faculty members.

Advice On Surviving Conferences From Dr. Wendy M. Christensen

Wendy ChristensenDr. Wendy M. Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ.  Her research focuses on how inequality shapes political participation.  In her free time she loves reading feminist theory and mysteries (and feminist mysteries!), running, and drinking beer.  You can learn more about Dr. Christensen on her website and on Twitter at @wendyphd

How To Survive Academic Conferences

Suddenly it’s August and the American Sociological Association (ASA) annual meeting is right around the corner! That means I need to prepare physically and mentally for the whirlwind of activity and socializing ahead!

I attended my first academic conference during my first year in graduate school. I decided to take advice about networking very seriously. I decided to go to the ASA meeting. I’ll admit that I was beyond miserable at that first conference. I only knew a few people in my department, and even fewer of the people from my school in attendance. I roomed with older grad students who were too far out of my own area of interest to introduce me around. Out of the 5,000+ people there, I felt as though I didn’t know a single person. I wandered around for days without any familiar contact. It was pretty terrible and mentally exhausting. I’m surprised that I actually stayed in academia after that.

Since then, I’ve been to dozens of conferences. And with some reservations, I actually love them. Conferences are still stressful and exhausting, but they also serve as a reminder of the excitement that I have for my discipline. And conferences give me a chance to see a lot of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years at conferences—the result of successful networking! And now that I’m out of grad school, conferences give me a chance to see my grad school friends and mentors.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about attending conferences without losing my mind.

  • Think small. If you’re at a huge conference like ASA, try to attend a smaller conference happening at the same time (SSSP, ABS, SWS). A lot of smaller organizations run their meetings concurrently, either in the same hotel or in the same area. They might have their own receptions, workshops, and hospitality suites. It’s a lot easier to get to know a smaller group of people. And if they’re people who are either similar to you (SWS feminists!), or who study the same thing you do, it will feel much more familiar and give you more to connect over.
  • Try not to be afraid to meet new people. It’s easy to sit in a ton of sessions and never meet anyone as panels and lectures are not very interactive. Attend some informal events like workshops and interest-meetings (focused around students, for example) where you’re likely to talk to people. Try to find a buddy and go to some of the section receptions together. Don’t be afraid of meeting scholars whose work you know, either. If you’re feeling shy, ask a professor or mutual friend to introduce you. I scan the program for scholars whose work I use and then attend their sessions. I make sure to go up and meet them afterwards and I’ve found people are usually always gracious and friendly in these circumstances.
  • Don’t be upset if people you know ignore you. If someone from your department blows past you without acknowledging your attempt at a “hello,” don’t take it personally. It’s not you. They’re trying to juggle presentations, meetings, workshops and all sorts of other stuff on bad hotel coffee. Unless they’re really rude (which I guess might be the case in some situations), just assume they’re busy and try to grab them again when they look less busy. Keep in mind that people, even those who have been to tons of conferences, are probably just as stressed out about them as you are.
  • Take advantage of hospitality suites, media centers, wifi spaces etc. to hang out and work at during the conference. These are great places to catch your breath and meet new people. And they often have free coffee and snacks!
  • Select roommates wisely. It’s great to save money by rooming with a bunch of people. I always do this at SWS conferences, which I think of as a big feminist slumber party. I’ve actually met bedmates in the middle of the night when they got into bed with me (hey, don’t get the wrong idea, folks)! But it’s also nice to room alone sometimes, if you can swing it financially. For the upcoming conference I found an AirBnB boutique hotel room for the same price that I would have paid sharing a room at the conference hotel. It’s a couple blocks away, and it’s good for me to be able to escape the crazy activity of the conference when I need to.
  • If it’s going to be a really busy conference map out your schedule ahead of time. I use the color-coding function in my calendar to note which events are mandatory (e.g., a meeting I’m running, my own presentation) and which events are optional. That way, if I decide to wander around the book fair longer than I planned, it’s clear to me at a glance that I’m not missing something important.
  • Be selective about the sessions you attend. I spent a few years of meetings going to sessions because they sounded interesting and I ended up bored more times than not. Maybe I’ve had bad luck, but I find a lot of presenters don’t prepare and do little to try to make their talk interesting. To avoid getting stuck in a snooze-fest I do a couple things:
    • I search the program ahead of time for names of people whose work I know and make it a point to go to their sessions.
    • If I do try an unknown session, I sit in the back so I can duck out, if it’s not what I thought. I only duck out between papers, though, not during someone’s presentation. Don’t be rude.
  • If you’re presenting, think about your presentation like teaching. I’ve seen some truly terrible presentations (and some really fantastic ones). There is already lots of advice out there on this, and there are some disciplinary differences (I guess in History they read their papers– I can’t imagine what that’s like). I would stress these:
    • For the love of Karl Marx, do not read your paper. Please. I don’t care how entertaining you think your voice is. It’s not.
    • Do use visual, selective, and appropriate PowerPoint. Pictures! Graphics! Short videos! Stand out!
    • If you use PowerPoint, bring it on a flash drive, email it to yourself, and try it out ahead of time to make sure there are not technical issues.
    • Do not cram 8 million words onto your slides. Do not use small fonts. The same goes with tables.
    • Do not spend more than a few slides or 3-4 minutes (in a 15 minute presentation) getting to your data and findings!
    • No surprise endings. Walk your audience through your argument, but tell them where they’re heading up front.
  • Do some serious networking! Meeting people and networking really are the most important part of conferences. Yes, it happens at sessions, in the halls, and at receptions. But you know where it really happens? Over drinks (coffee or alcohol). In bars, over dinner, out, late after the conference ends. “Networking” = drinking. Have a drink. Bond with people. Dance. Laugh. Make friends. BUT:
    • Don’t get drunk. This isn’t a night at your apartment playing Apples to Apples with your best friends.
    • Don’t bitch about anyone. We all need to vent about professors, colleagues, students, department chairs. etc. But, everyone in academia knows everyone. This is not an exaggeration. You never know who is at the next table. Never bitch about someone using names or other identifiers. Basically don’t ever say anything you wouldn’t say in a mixed-department function anyway. Just be smart about it.
  • Do something local. After going to great new cities where I never left the hotel, I try to always do one thing that’s local – try a local restaurant, explore an interesting neighborhood, or go to a museum. I’ll at least take an afternoon, or an extra day to explore. As a result, I’ve been to plantations, historic attractions, museums, swamps, canyons, ghost towns, markets, and landmarks that I might have never gone to otherwise. It’s definitely worth it and makes the conference experience much more fun!

That’s it! What are your tips for surviving ASA? And if you see me at the conference, say hello!

Moving Advice For Wayward Academics

Wendy ChristensenDr. Wendy M. Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ.  Her research focuses on how inequality shapes political participation.  In her free time she loves reading feminist theory and mysteries (and feminist mysteries!), running, and drinking beer.  You can learn more about Dr. Christensen on her website and by following her on Twitter at @wendyphd

Below, Dr. Christensen offers advice to ease the process that many academics will be going through this summer: moving.  Add your own advice in the comments section!

Moving Advice for Wayward Academics

I realized today that I have a bunch of awesome friends making big moves this summer. Not just big moves, but big moves to coveted Tenure Track jobs! Yay! And I realized in the course of offering lots of moving advice on Facebook, that I have quite a bit of experience under my belt moving-wise. In the past 3 years, we’ve made 2 pretty big, life-changing moves for jobs. The first was to a VAP position across the country, the summer after I defended my PhD. I defended earlier in the summer, but made some massive edits that summer in the midst of packing and moving. Then, last summer I made another sizable, although not quite as far move, for the job I have now. Does this make me an expert? Nope. But I have some good tips to pass along. Some of these are good for any move, some of these are good for academics more specifically.

1. Start a couple months before you move going through stuff and weeding out. Go through junk drawers and closets, books and clothes. Sell what you think is valuable enough on Craigslist (but follow these safety tips). We sold some collector-specific stuff, extra dvd player, unworn running shoes (i.e. speciality items) and got good money that way. Yardsales are a lot of work for just a little bit of money, but we were able to do it with our entire apartment complex, so it wasn’t a waste of time. We donated everything that didn’t sell immediately. Money we made from selling stuff went into an envelope as “moving funds.”

2. Carefully weed out academic books and articles/notes/paperwork. Academic books for a one-time project can be sold on Amazon (if you have time), to grad students studying for exams, or just given away (most departments have a “free book” spot). Do you need all those physical journals? My guess is that you don’t. Add those to the free table, or give them to a library.

Papers and articles are another issue. I had an entire 4-drawer filing cabinet brimming with journal articles, class notes, teaching materials etc. The first time I moved, I got rid of about half of it. After this last move, I got rid of the cabinet itself. Part of this is my goal of becoming paperless. You can’t search paper with the click of a mouse, but you can search electronic files. Here’s how I did it:

  • I only saved journal articles that were critical to my research or important to me, and had important notes on them. Everything else you need you can find online as you need it.
  • I made a binder of notes from graduate classes and prelims, and kept only what would be useful and what would fit in that binder. I could scan that now into Evernote and those notes would be more useful, actually.
  • I got rid of almost all the drafts of everything I had worked on. Why save those? I have them electronically, and since I got into the habit of adding my advisor’s notes directly into a Word document, I don’t need those anymore, either.
  • I also got rid of student papers, assignments, duplicate class activities etc. Any class worksheet or activity that I didn’t have electronically, I scanned with my iPhone and filed it as a pdf.
  • Now I have files in my work office for articles I teach with regularly, assignments etc. But I also try to keep those down to a minimum. Paper is my enemy!

3. Find out if your new job will let you ship your books to your new office. I didn’t get any moving money this past move (state job), but the dean did offer to pay to ship my books. I didn’t take them up on the offer because I thought the whole process of shipping would be a pain. But you know what’s more of a pain? Moving 30+ boxes of books on and off a truck, and then into and out of your car to your new office. I’m not getting any younger and I should have had UPS doing that heavy lifting.

4. If you’re still prepping for Fall courses (I imagine you are– who is all prepped months before they start a new job?) or working on an article deadline (I’ll talk about how little work you’ll get done over the summer in a minute), you’ll need to keep some books with you and accessible. Sort those out and put them in their own box, clearly labelled “books for summer.” Then you can find them when you need them. Actually, keep out the things you’ll need for the move and a week or two after:

  • A suitcase for each person in your family with clothes and toiletries for a couple weeks.
  • A bag or box with moving supplies (tape, tape cutters, rope, measuring tape, nails, hammer etc.)
  • A box of pet stuff (blankets, beds, food, treats, toys, food dishes etc.)
  • A box of immediately-needed kitchen stuff (coffee pot, pans, plates, mugs, utensils).
  • A box of cleaning stuff. Not every apartment will be super clean when you move in (or you won’t trust that it’s actually clean…) so we kept all of this easily accessible too.

5. Google Drive is your friend. I had a spreadsheet for finding an apartment, a spreadsheet budgeting for a summer without pay (another thing to plan for!) and new expenses in a new place, and a Master Moving List document with an ongoing checklist of stuff to do.

6. Apartment hunting sucks. Of course it depends on where you’re moving too, how much of a budget you have per month, what your pet situation is, whether or not you have kids etc. My partner and I moved to a rental market fueled by nearby NYC, and we moved with multiple cats. Think honestly about what you want and what you absolutely don’t want. Be firm on these, because when you start looking and feel desperate, you might sway and feel like you have to take that crappy garden apartment with the dumpster outside your bedroom window.

  • If you’re moving to a major metropolitan area, find a realtor to help guide you through the market. And not just any realtor– get a recommendation! Ask your new colleagues, listservs, Facebook friends, for anyone in realty who can steer you in a good direction. There are realtors that will screw you.
  • Don’t trust Craigslist– especially if you’re moving to a major metropolitan area. You can tell pretty quickly what’s a scam on there ($900 for 2 bedrooms when everything else is $1500?), but some of them are pretty deceptive.
  • Make a renter’s resume. This is super-geeky, but especially if you have pets, you need to do it. Include info about your job. You’ve got a PhD! You’re going to be a professor (or a visiting professor… or whatever)! Don’t hide it! Flaunt it! Landlords want someone who isn’t going to screw them over, so take advantage of the nerdy reputation of our profession! Include info about your pets, your vet, your previous rental experiences. Include your hobbies and how you spend your free time. We also created a second version with specific info on it for apartments we were applying for seriously. This had our updated credit scores, and income information (and a contact for your dean so they can verify your employment).
  • Include a letter of recommendation from former landlords with your application. Most people don’t call references (shocking, I know) so put that really good reference about you being the tenants with cats right in front of their face!
  • Don’t rent anything you haven’t seen. Seriously. It took us 4 trips to find a rental. Pictures lie. Places that look fantastic in photos, look horrible in person, and vice versa. Check out the area (Google Maps street view is great for this), and your commute to work (Google Maps during rush hour will give you traffic times)!

7. If you get moving money (instead of submitting moving receipts for reimbursement), keep in mind taxes will come out of it (ouch). If you don’t get moving money, or don’t get enough, then try to keep moving costs down by cutting back on what you’re moving and comparing different rates. Ryder was cheaper for our move across the country, but UHaul was somehow a better deal for our move a few states away. Can you drive the truck yourself (or can your partner/Dad/friend)? Can you load up the truck and have them drive it (ala UPack)? Check Craigslist in your area for free (or cheap) boxes and moving supplies as lots of people who just moved will want to get rid of those. Or go for liquor boxes as they are sturdy and aren’t too big. And heck, if you get lots of moving money from your new job, pay for someone to do the whole thing for you–loading and transport! If I *ever* move again, that’s going to be the only way I go!

8. Keep all moving receipts. My partner had a big envelope she kept with her (along with all our financial stuff in a bag– because she’s good that way) and put every single receipt into it. Did you buy sandwiches for the people who help you load? Keep the receipt. New trashcans and mops for your new place? Keep the receipt. Last minute Home Depot boxes and packing tape? Keep the receipt. Donations? Keep the receipt… get the idea? Moves for a job are tax deductible, and if you pay for the move yourself, you can wind up getting some serious change back from the government!

9. The summer you’re moving, you’re not going to get any work done. At all. Really. Especially if you’re moving pets, kids, a whole household, across the country. It ain’t going to happen. I let a book review slide for a couple months because of the move (and the journal editors worked with me). You’re not going to have time to think about your research. You won’t be able to expend one ounce of energy thinking up new research ideas, or new theoretical approaches. You’re going to fall asleep if you try reading new lit in your field. You’re going to barely get your books selected for your Fall classes (only after the bookstore pressures you), and you’re not going to finish that syllabi until you get settled in and mostly unpacked. Unless you’re Wonder Woman, this is the reality. No one is Wonder Woman. Not even me, with a beer in my hand!

10. Actually you can plan on not getting much of your own work done for your entire first semester. Don’t do what I did and beat yourself up about it. Set your sights on minimal deadlines– conference abstracts, short funding proposals, reading some new lit. Make an outline/list of stuff to do on an article. Think about your research, work on something related to it a few minutes every day, if you can, but don’t expect to get lots done. You’ll be adjusting to a new town, a new house, a new grocery store, new colleagues, a new school, new office, new library system, new grade reporting system, new courses, new students… and the list goes on. You’re going to be mentally exhausted during this adjustment, and that’s ok. I remember reading once that among the most stressful events of life are deaths, major accidents, major illnesses, and moves. Seriously. Take time to get to know the people and places around you, but don’t beat yourself up about not getting much research or writing done.

11. Finally, get unpacked as soon as possible. Spend a week getting unpacked, one room at a time. Stay up late and get rid of those boxes one at a time. Hang stuff up and make it look like home. There’s nothing worse than an unpacked apartment. When classes start, you’ll appreciate coming home to a home.

Those are my tips for getting through a move as an academic. Have any others?

Dr. Wendy Christensen Reflects On Year 2 Of The Tenure-Track

Wendy ChristensenDr. Wendy M. Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ.  Her research focuses on how inequality shapes political participation.  In her free time she loves reading feminist theory and mysteries (and feminist mysteries!), running, and drinking beer.  You can learn more about Dr. Christensen on her website and on Twitter at @wendyphd

Below, Dr. Christensen reflects on her second year on the tenure-track — teaching, research, and service — specifically highlighting what worked and what did not.

Reflections Of My Second Year: Teaching, Research, and Service

It is the end of my second year in my tenure track position.  I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I have developed some strategies for surviving (and even thriving!).

Below, I describe some of what has worked and what hasn’t for me this past year.


What Worked?

  • Less is more. I plan less for class and allow for organic discussion. I assign less reading, making sure the important readings are done thoroughly instead of assigning lots of readings that just aren’t going to be read.
  • When it comes to documentaries, more is more! There are tons of great sociology documentaries in the areas I teach in (Social Movements, Social Stratification, Intro, Methods) so I decided to splurge and show a full-length documentary (one that takes up a whole class period) every 2-3 weeks. At first I felt guilty. Am I’m slacking off? Then, a colleague pointed out that I’m letting people speak about their own experiences. As a feminist teacher, that is something I strive for. The films I’ve shown have been touchstones for students throughout the semester. In fact, during the last week of my Social Movements class they were still talking about the film I showed the first week — The Life and Times of Harvey Milk! The True Meaning of Pictures sparked one of the best student-driven class discussions I’ve ever had on objectification and authenticity in research!
  • Short, regular low-stakes reading reactions are a win-win. They keep students doing the reading, thinking about them and writing regularly. And they are super easy and fast for me to grade on a simple 4-point scale.
  • Google Drive has been fantastic this semester for students in my Methods courses. They use Google Drive to share assignments (interview questions, survey results etc.) with me. I can comment, and they are able to peer review each other’s papers through real time editing. Learning to use Google Drive has helped them give up their USB drives for a real backup system.

What Didn’t Work?

  • Attendance. I’m giving up on taking attendance. I will continue to do it (using a seating chart) for the first couple weeks of classes to learn names, but after that it’s a waste of time. It’s demeaning. They are adults and can decide whether to come to class. If they miss class, they’ll miss key information, and won’t get credit for in-class assignments.
  • Google Drive. Yes, it worked, but I need to find a way to manage the email notifications that come when I get assignments. Since committees and my department also use Google Drive, my inbox was flooded with updates and comments and shares all semester. There has to be a way to manage that.
  • Assignments due at the end of the semester. Weekly reading reaction papers helped spread the grading out somewhat, but I need to move up the due dates of bigger papers (drafts, etc.) so that they aren’t all due at the end of the semester.


What Worked?

  • Simply writing. When I don’t think too much about writing—when to do it, where to do it, how stressful it might be etc.—then I am more able to just sit down and write. Overthinking about writing itself is a big time waste when I really can just spend the time writing.
  • I had a big writing wake up call this semester. In February attended my usual yearly feminist retreat, the winter meeting of Sociologist for Women in Society for my booster shot of empowerment. At this meeting I learned that I was being too much of a perfectionist about my writing. My mentors wisely convinced me that I am not allowed to be the judge of my own work. On the tenure track, I just need to write, finish drafts, and just send them out—for feedback and for publication. I left the meeting with a whole new outlook on writing. As a perfectionist, I am not allowed to decide when something is “done” because then it will never be done! This quote sums up my new approach: “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”– Alain de Botton.
  • Regular writing. Yes, I’ve read about this before, but over the past year I really put it into practice. Writing in little chunks as close to daily as possible (~4 days a week) makes writing much easier. If I wait too long between writing sessions, I’m more frustrated and get less done.

What Didn’t Work?

  • A set schedule of what to do every hour. I tried making a schedule and mapping out my day. It didn’t work. Meetings, weeks with lots of grading, informal conversations with colleagues etc. all got in the way of the schedule. It stressed me out. I know this works for some people, but it’s not going to work for me.
  • Perfectionism. See above. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Failure, rejection? Trying again? Those things are all better than nothing happening at all!


As a second year faculty member, I am not longer excused from service.

What Worked?

  • Doing service I care about. Each committee I’m serving on means something to me. I’m on the Curriculum Committee instead of Assessment (I’m not a big test person), and the Student Retention Committee instead of the Budget Committee. I’m on the LGBTQA Advisory Board and that counts as university-level service, so I’m steering clear of the faculty Senate for now. The colleagues I work with on these committees care about the same issues I do, and that’s energizing.
  • Consistency. Every year in our department we volunteer for committees. I decided to not try anything new, so that there isn’t a big learning curve again for new committees in the fall. Everyone is happy with my current level of service, so I’m keeping it exactly where it is.

What Didn’t Work?

  • Doing too much! Yes, like many junior faculty, I am terrible at saying no. What am I supposed to do when asked to be on the Race & Gender Project Board?  Say no?  Hell no! I did say no to being the chair of that committee, though!

What has your year been like?  What has worked for you and what do you still need to work on?