Saturday, September 16, 2017

Burned out on being accommodating

One of the truisms of our profession is that assistant professors have to protect their time and learn to say no so that they can get promoted and tenured, and that senior scholars have to make this happen. Fair enough. (Yes, I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have a t-t job.)

Another truism of our profession is that associate professors have to protect their time and learn to say no or else they'll never make full, especially women faculty, who often do a lot of service. Senior scholars should make this happen, too. Fair enough.

A third truism of our profession is that senior scholars and full professors are--to judge by the Chronicle and other chatter about the web--pretty awful: self-absorbed, selfish about their time, and generally interested in making life miserable for their juniors. All that NYTimes kvetching about millennials and their avocado toast is nothing compared to how the press sees professors.

I want to be accommodating and helpful.  I'm a full professor and happy to step up, right? To write letters and reviews of all kinds, right? To go to campus for an hour-long meeting that completely kills a research day or show up to warm a chair at an event, right? After all, where am I going to go from here?

Here's the problem. Because I technically can, and because I don't want to be THAT guy, I say yes to obligations. And I think I am happy to do so, at the time.

But it's taking me longer and longer to do the reviews, letters, and the rest, because I procrastinate about writing them. Why? Because I don't really want to but feel that I ought to, so I do twice the amount of work on them that I would normally do in an effort to feel enthusiastic about it.  I can't seem to just wade in and git 'er done (which, in academic terms, is still a lot of hours).

For every article review, I think of my own articles, all things that are not getting done because I'm doing work on someone else's work. Peer review is important, and we should all do it cheerfully.

As I should. Or should I?




4 comments:

gwinne said...

Oh, man. I get it. The good full profs in my dept--and there are many-- are completely overburdened. There are a few who really need to step up.... but my sense is that they have done so earlier in their careers, got burned out, etc.

Clearly something instutional needs to change...

xykademiqz said...


My mantra is: You don't have to want to do it; you just have to do it.

I am like you, in that I don't want to do much of the service stuff, so I procrastinate and it takes me 2, 3, 5x longer than necessary to do it.

I think it's the difference between your work and your job, as per Virginia Valian's "Solving a Work Problem."
http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/psych/faculty/valian/docs/1985solvingAWorkProb.pdf

There's stuff that's aligned with your true self (research, perhaps teaching and mentoring students) versus the stuff that is part of your duties but has nothing to do with your true self (most service).

For instance, I don't mind writing paper reviews for the journals where I publish a lot and where I believe the reviewers are my real community. Also, I don't mind reviewing proposals for agencies that actually fund me. Everything else I don't want to do because I feel they get something for nothing.

I also don't mind writing letters of recommendation for my former or current group members or letters of evaluation/promotion for people I know and like. I hate doing it for undergrads who not once showed up in office hours, or nominations for accolades for colleagues who are generally selfish assholes. I hate doing anything for our current dean, who's a bully.

So FWIW you have one senior academic's blessings to not do your job with enthusiasm. Just doing it is plenty. Enthusiasm is for your work.

Undine Spragg said...

gwinne--institutional change is probably the only way. The thing is, for all the others (assistant, associate), there's a clear goal--promotion--so you're not being "selfish" to say no. At full, though, you're just indulging this crazy wish you have to continue your research--or at least that's what all the "how awful are full professors, amirite?" things I see in the press.

xykademiqz--thanks for that link and those blessings. "Enthusiasm is for your work"--yes, or it should be.

JaneB said...

I tend to do the stuff I don't want to do when I already know I'm not at my best - after lunch, typically - when I'm kind of less engaged with the world anyway so it's a bit less painful. I decided to at least keep my "best thinking times" or parts of the day when I'm more on the ball for the work that I think actually matters...

I've also tried to develop a sense of what "my share" of such work is, and then say no beyond that - NOT all senior people pull their weight, and it's clear women (in my department at least) usually end up doing more than their share, and being EXPECTED to take a larger share (women's work, the academic version...). Student who never showed up in class - are they "my" tutee or project student? Then yes, I still write a reference. If not - they need to ask their tutor and their project supervisor, and I have no qualms about sending them away to do so. Student who engaged with the class memorably, worked hard, talked to me - if they want to go into the field of the class, sure, I'll write for them. That sort of thing.