New faculty, new orientations.

IMG_0160I spent some considerable time today trying to craft the perfect post about all the exciting topics I’m hoping to cover over the next few months. However, making that list of ideas readable is more difficult than I thought it would be. I’ve also bugged some people to guest post for me, and am exciting to receive them (you know who you are!). Who will win the guest post race and be the first to orient us? Stay tuned…

In the meantime, I thought I would offer some thoughts on my own experience of transitioning the great divide from graduate school to the tenure-track treadmill four years ago. These are probably tainted reflections at this point, because I’m remembering them from my current position of increased confidence and security. But nevertheless, I think they hit on a theme that I’d like to raise on this blog in a couple of different ways.

That is the need to carve out work-life balance. It’s difficult. I had a rule in grad school that I did not work evenings and weekends unless I was in an immediate emergency situation (finishing a dissertation, prepping for a job interview, running up against a publishing deadline). That went completely out the window the first year I had my job. I used to review the readings for the classes I was teaching the night before in the bathtub because it killed two necessities (bathing and course prep) with one stone. I’m not saying this to sound like a super awesome go-getter. I’m saying it because it’s bonkers. I recognize that there are moments where you just need to buckle down and get stuff done. But it’s not a way to life your life. If you feel like you don’t have time to bathe unless you are also working while you do it (seriously, former self?) then you need to reassess.

Of course, there are very real pressures that drive this sort of bonkers behaviour in academia. In my case, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to stay on top of my teaching. I wasn’t even thinking about conducting research or trying to write in the first semester of my job, because I just did not have time to think about anything other than immediate problems and deadlines. I did, however, put in a SSHRC application that fall, telling myself that because I had a postdoc project already mapped out, it wouldn’t be that difficult to turn the ideas into a faculty grant. And I went to two conferences, one in Edmonton and one in San Diego — both quite far from where I work. I over-committed myself, for sure. I probably would have had more time to bathe had I not chosen to do those things on top of my first semester of full-time teaching.

I can’t say now that I would have done things differently, because the conferences allowed me to connect with friends and colleagues who I was used to living near and who I missed desperately. The SSHRC application obtained a small grant that helped me go to Ottawa that summer and start research on a new project that reinvigorated me (I was really sick of my dissertation/book project at that point… not that I had worked on it at all, but I just could not bring myself to look at it that summer). These things are important too and on the whole they lead to personal and career fulfillment and life-work balance.

Also, that was the year I dragged home two cats. Those girls were and are awesome stress-relievers. Kittehs!

How do you find life-work balance? Are you working to get better at it like the rest of us?

  1. Lana said:

    I am really looking forward to this blog. After a difficult MA experience resulting in a bad relationship with my supervisor, I am trying to find my way forward in the local art community on evenings and weekends while working a full time job that is not directly degree-related during the day. I’m trying to build local contacts and renew 10-year-old relationships with my undergraduate professors as I pay off the non-student loans I took out for the MA. Can I afford to do a PhD or additional MA? Will I stay close to my original topics of study or branch out further? How to best navigate this as I do not expect support from my MA supervisor, and worry that I have not kept up my research since my MA a couple of years ago, due to personal life circumstances? Will anyone even have funding to hire sessionals now or in the future, when faculty positions are being cut? How do we each find successful ways to go from the first graduate degree to…what? Those of us wanting to add children and partners into the mix as well have additional fears, anxieties, and considerations taking up head space.

    My work-life balance thought for the day? I have time to type this because I needed, and forced myself to take, a sick day. The world will not end. My health is important. My workplace will not collapse if I am not there today – even though I am secretly working from home. 😉

    • facultyorientations said:

      Thanks for your comment! I think re-entering grad school after a hiatus is something that many people do with success, but I know it can be a struggle in terms of balancing all the factors you speak of. But in my experience teaching students in a similar situation, coming back to school after a few years away can reinvigorate your interest in what you’re doing. And don’t underestimate the fact that you are probably bringing in important career and life skills that you may not have had the first time around. Good luck!

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