Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wait, I’m not a grad student anymore?

Guest post by Dr. Cara Ocobock:

I thought my final year of graduate school which consisted of finishing and defending my dissertation, applying for jobs, teaching, planning a wedding, and then planning a move would have adequately prepared me for my first year as a faculty member. I figured the differing demands on my time and attention would be similar to what I would face in an academic job. Now when I look back, I realize that my final year of graduate school was basically summer vacation.

  • First, I can no longer spend 98% of my time in pajama pants or jeans. I know this may sound silly, but having to look semi-professional on a daily basis was a more difficult adjustment than I had expected…also expensive!
  • Second, I have had to completely readjust my perception of time. During graduate school I used to think I needed at least a four-hour block of time to accomplish anything meaningful. This strategy worked because I had that freedom in my schedule. I no longer have those gloriously long, uninterrupted stretches of time. The majority of my days are now filled with classes, meetings, research students, office hours, and colleagues. Because of this, I have had to master the art of fifteen-minute productivity. Those short bursts of time in between various responsibilities are golden nuggets of writing and editing. It was difficult and frustrating to adjust to this at first. I felt like I never got anything done since I could only write a few sentences at a time. I soon realized those sentences here and there quickly added up during the day. It also served the purpose of keeping whatever I am working on fresh in my mind throughout the day and from day-to-day.
  • Third, the constant pulls in different directions also meant I had to shift focus quickly. This has actually helped me a great deal. I rarely have the opportunity to stare at uncooperative data for hours on end, which invariably lead to me banging my head against the table and seeking out the nearest tub of ice cream. Being forced to frequently change gears prevents me from getting frustrated with what I am doing. So much so, it has now become a conscious decision to step away from what I am doing when I notice my thoughts wandering or frustration rising. Rather than bashing my head, I continue the productivity in a different direction.
  • Fourth, I needed to lose the guilt I felt when not working. When I was a grad student, I would feel incredible guilt when I wasn’t spending every waking moment (and even the sleeping moments) not working. I would feel guilty about not working, which made me feel horrible about myself, which made it near impossible to work, which increased the guilt, and so on and so forth into the spiral many of us are familiar with. We need balance in life. Let me repeat…WE NEED BALANCE.  Working out, reading science fiction or the latest Krakauer book, occasionally seeing our loved ones, and taking 20 minutes out of your day to build a Lego while watching reality TV shows I am too embarrassed to name. This is the list of things I do that are not work related. And they are necessary. They make a better person if for no other reason than they allow me to turn my mind off, allow me to recharge. I have dropped the guilt and embraced the time I take for myself and for my loved ones. And that, in the end does affect my work output… for the better.
  • At the moment, there isn’t a “Fifth” because I haven’t figured it all out, and I doubt I ever will. For example, I still haven’t learned how to say “no” when asked to take on extra work – and this includes saying “no” to myself. 
I am sure all of you reading this have your own incredible insights on the transition from grad student to faculty – please share in the comments section.

This is a constant learning process, and honestly, I fail all the time. But, those failures inform, I make the correction, and I move on knowing better. Despite all the changes I have had to make as a faculty member, I still delight in those rare days without classes and meetings where I can go un-showered, stay in my pajama pants, and just write.

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