Sunday, May 24, 2009

Academic idiom: "protecting your time"

The Lessons for Girls series made me think about the phrase "protecting your time," which the academic advice columnists and experts in how to get ahead are always telling you to do.

It is a good thing to do, but the phrase itself can be used as a guilt line, too. Example:

Colleague but not one in my direct field: "Maybe we could get together to read and discuss [these complicated theoretical texts] in [a field that is mine, not yours] on [a set of days when you are not on campus].

Me: "No, I don't really do much with that area. Besides, I won't be on campus much this summer, and I'm on sabbatical in the fall."

Colleague: "I see. I understand. You're just protecting your time."
Subtext: "Way to be selfish and uncollegial! Good job!"

Me: "No! Er, uh, it's just that I don't work much in that area."

Colleague: (walks away, clearly disapproving)

Now, why couldn't I have said, "Protecting my time? You bet I am!" or "You're protecting your time by wanting to work on your material; why shouldn't I protect mine?" or "Of course. Isn't my time important?"

I think it's time to reclaim some of these idioms that, although they're supposed to be neutral, are actually used to indicate that you're being selfish, uncooperative, uncollegial, or any of the other concepts that are used to make you feel guilty about doing the research that you are being paid to do--or, more generally, reclaiming your time for your own purposes rather than the purposes of other people. Are there any others?


profacero said...

On protecting time: I don't do it enough, in part because it was always said to me one should protect one's time and this meant not explore, and not have anything serendipitous happen because you weren't available, you had pre regimented yourself elsewhere, etc. Protecting my time to me sounded like subjecting myself to some sort of Puritan discipline.

Also and at the same time, it was considered "oppressive" of women to say no to things they had no real interest in, e.g. that study group your colleague wanted you go go to. So protecting my time was in that regard dangerous.

So in between giving away time I didn't want to give away, but felt I had to, and being flexible in the ways I wanted to be, I got my time trampled upon pretty well.

Therefore I have come up with a new phrase: DEFENDING MYSELF. It is working better. If it isn't strong enough I will try ASSERTING MY RIGHT TO EXIST.

profacero said...

P.S. I have protected my time so well today that I do not feel need to reclaim my identity by reading blogs I like, which is a happy result ... but it means I'm not as sharp at remembering things to comment as I might be.

But on being guilt tripped re research:

* "you're too scientific" (elementary school)
* "you know you already have an A, why are you doing that?" (elementary school)

... then I got the adult version of these 2 sentences later on.

profacero said...

OK, now I think I understand the question asked in the post a little better.


"There are problems everywhere" (i.e. you should suck up whatever is happening at your university)

"Nowadays you can do research anywhere" (i.e. you should not want to live closer to a bigger library, an archive in your field, etc.)

"Everyone is crazy" (i.e. if you are being harassed by a crazy colleague, or if your department is having all of its time taken up dealing with one, you should not notice it or resent the time sink because we are all neurotic [poor logic there, but it's a strategy of deflection])

undine said...

profacero, I reinterpreted the "protect your time" thing to mean that if I wanted to think about my project and weed my garden at the same time, I could do that. I see what you mean about the Puritan discipline, though--the phrase often means "sit still and think hard and feel guilty."

I had never thought about the "supporting women" part, but you're absolutely right in that women are supposed to aid and support one another. What it really means is that if you've got a colleague more ruthlessly ambitious than yourself (which in feminist utopias doesn't happen), you can get your own work derailed by "being supportive of other women" and working on her projects instead of yours.

Those statements--yes, exactly! I'm especially puzzled by the "research everywhere" idea, since the acknowledgments section of every book I see has a lengthy list of archives visited.

Z said...

I've gotten that "support women" thing a lot, and could go on about how it means "support women who support the patriarchy" and so on.

Archives in acknowledgments, yes, well that is why I wrote that thing somewhere about how I don't like to read acknowledgments. I get white hot angry then at the people who keep telling me one can do research "anywhere."

Historiann said...

"You're *just* protecting your time."

Uhm, *just*? It's the "just" that makes this conversation annoying. Your instincts are right, Undine. "If you don't read and discuss something with me on the day and time that's convenient for me, you're being uncollegial."

I say, protect your time and let people know that's what you're doing. (Especially when you're on sabbatical! Good grief.)

undine said...

Glad to hear you say that, Historiann. It was so subtle that I thought maybe it was just me. Next time, I'm going to say it loud and proud: "Let me see--you want me to come to campus during my sabbatical to work my way through books that you're interested in (but I'm not) and discuss them with you? Did I get that right?"

Profacero, I remember your post about acknowledgments and really agreed with what you said there.

Ivy Climber said...

I say pre-empt. You don't want to come off as obnoxious/aggressive, because nobody likes an aggressive (female) colleague and it could come back and bite you. So no sarcasm. Instead, in response to the original question, "I'm sorry, I'm trying to protect my time these days." It does imply that maybe someday in the future you will have time for him, but you get to put that day off indefinitely.

undine said...

Ivy Climber, you're right. I don't think I really would reply in a snarky manner, but the idea of taking this phrase seriously would help to deflect criticism.