Friday, August 21, 2009

Got the fever?

Well, two people in my department have contracted swine flu--a doc student and an undergrad, and I am feeling a creeping sense of paranoia myself about contracting it. I haven't had contact with either one, but it doesn't really matter. The circle feels too close.

It doesn't help that I have seasonal allergies that make me feel gross at this time of year. But after reading countless stories about H1N1 virus in all the higher ed literature, not to mention the national news, I am getting more and more freaked about catching the virus.

I am like your friend who ALWAYS get the virus going around. I must have a limited immune system. Everytime we visit my goddaughter and she has a cold, I inevitably get it. I have come to believe that one of the problems of not having my own kids is that I have not built up the kind of immunity parents get.

The good news for me is that I only teach a small seminar this semester, so my chances of catching an illness from students is smaller than when I teach the really big lecture class. That said, I still report to campus most every weekday and sit in a building with lots of staff, faculty, and students milling around. And even this week, I have attended orientation events with hundreds of students, any of whom could be walking around unknowingly passing along this virus.

If it were just up to me, I might be one of those paranoid people who walks around in the mask (like the pic above). Of course, people would think I was nuts, and the mask would likely drive me crazy.
Ah, well, there is little to be done beyond taking the basic precautions. And it helps that few of the people infected have been severely sick or have died. I'm honestly just dreading being sick--it takes away time and energy that I need to dedicate to all sorts of things.

So, keep an eye out for the future post entitled, "Got it! Damn."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What could have been...

What I should have been doing:
  • reviewing a research report in advance of the conference call with my co-authors tomorrow
  • cleaning my office
  • working on a department newsletter
  • working on a research article
  • reviewing another manuscript for a national journal
  • preparing 2 trainings I am delivering in the fall
  • taking a nap (I had a VERY early and long day)

What I have been doing:

  • reading Facebook and watching clips on YouTube
  • talking to colleagues about nothing--shooting the breeze, as it were
  • responding to email that keeps pouring in
  • blogging

Ah, what could have been...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beginning a new semester

Every year, I start the new semester with some excitement, some hopefulness, and some dread. I can't tell you what proportion of each I changes from year to year.

I recall being a professor with no administrative appointment, and how different the beginning of the year felt in that capacity than it does now. Yes, I was always a little stressed about updating syllabi, working on course outlines and e-reserves, but the semester began somewhat gradually. I felt that I could ease into it. I had time to strategize about the first class, outlining my lecture/plan/activities so that I felt confident walking in the first day. There were certainly meetings, parties, and orientation activities to attend, but none of the planning rested on me. I cannot say that I don't occasionally look back with some sense of longing and nostalgia.

These days, I am the one planning the orientation activities, as well as the meetings and (occasionally) the parties! That planning--and overseeing the resultant events, added to student services activities (students needing to add/drop/change their schedules, manage financial aid, complain about textbook prices or differences in requirements between sections of a course) and the regular teaching planning, can make the beginning of the semester feel a little bit like riding an avalanche downhill. I try to stay on top of the rushing madness, but I always feel it moving beneath my feet and threatening to pull me under.

Now entering my sixth year as an administrator, I am less and less excited and energized by the minutiae of administrative beginning-of-the-year activities. I don't mind participating, but the prep work is getting to be boring and repetitive. I have created good activities, and I have gotten feedback and worked to improve them. They are strong and good--and I am ready for someone else to come in with a new idea or activity. I am ready for something a little different in my own work responsibilities--either a different administrative job or possibly returning to the faculty. Either way, I want something new out of my academic life, and a new start to the (next) academic year.

So, this year will be my last in this particular administrative position. I conveyed that information to those above me last spring, but I worried sometimes whether I was making the right decision. As I approach the beginning of this academic year, I am assured that my decision was sound, and I will stick with it. In fact, it makes me able to approach the year as a series of "lasts"... my last student orientation to organize, my last faculty meeting to oversee, my last time overseeing the development of program evaluation materials. What a nice treat!

A quick note to those of you beginning your first year as tenure-track faculty members: This experience will not be like you imagined it would be. You will be overwhelmed sometimes with the many demands on your time and energy, and many things will go wrong in the classroom, your faculty, your research, etc. That said, you will get through it, and you will learn so much. Remember to give yourself a break--you have a lot to learn. Enjoy the ride, take time outside the academic venue, learn more about who you are and what you want.

Another note to all faculty: Please remember how hard the people in Student Services are working right about now. If you see them in the student center or at your orientation activities, compliment them on their great work. Help them know they are not invisible to you, and that you appreciate all they do to make the students' experiences better. And extend that same appreciation to your support staff members, who have scheduled the rooms, dealt with student enrollment issues, managed all the equipment purchases and student assistant salaries, gotten the copier running, and basically make your life run more smoothly than it could. Hell, bring in a box or two of donuts or bagels and provide a breakfast break for them. It goes a long way to improving morale, and it helps diminish the idea that faculty are rude, elitist, unapproachable snobs who don't care about the support staff at all. And it keeps them from getting quite as irritated as you describe your trip to Europe, Jamaica, or even the beach, a trip you took while they were all busy working their 9-5 jobs.

Best wishes to all for a good new academic year. This season of new beginning is one of the blessings of an academic life. Don't squander it!