“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
This is an extremely common problem among faculty members, especially those of us who tend to over-commit to service and other administrative responsibilities. This might seem counterintuitive, but I think the answer to your quandary might lie in squeezing just one more meeting in your already packed agenda.
I’d like to introduce you to the master of academic work-life balance, Dr. Kerry-Ann Rockquemore, President and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, and encourage you to try out her Sunday Meeting. It consists of listing ALL of your commitments, professional and otherwise, and actually writing them into your calendar.
In your case, it would be important to come up with a minimum amount of me-time, say five hours to start, and plug those into your schedule first. Then, make sure that the way you’re allocating your working hours is in line with your institutional expectations (e.g., if you’re assigned 40% research, make sure you’re dedicating 40% of your item for research).
As you map your to-dos onto the calendar, you might find that there physically aren’t enough hours in the week to accomplish everything you’ve committed to. Then it will be time to make some tough decisions.
Ask yourself whether each item will help you achieve your goal of…a promotion? A publication? Mental peace? Abs of titanium alloy? Whatever your priorities are, use them to decide what stays and what goes, and what gets renegotiated.
I am a staff member at a state university and I work with many people who are not ideologically similar to me. Since the presidential election last November, I am feeling a bit isolated in the work place. Is there any way I can address this issue without making enemies of my colleagues?
Though it might be cold comfort, after last year’s extremely divisive election you’re not alone in feeling alone. A quick Google search will show not only a love for puns on the part of headline writers, but also a deep concern with our current lack of national unity.
It’s unclear from your letter whether you’re being directly confronted about your political views or whether it’s just a general sense of unease that leads you to write. The most important question is whether you are being treated disrespectfully because of your politics. If this is the case, it would be wise to speak to a supervisor and/or Human Resources about any hostility in your workplace.
If, however, you are uncomfortable simply because you disagree with those around you, try reframing this as an opportunity for growth. As you practice civil discourse with people whose political views you might find abhorrent, you’ll improve your own communication skills and rehearse for future difficult dialogues.
A couple of guiding principles as you choose how to engage (or not) as specific situations arise might be honesty and empathy.
Don’t lie about your beliefs, even if they’re unpopular. Depending on the circumstances you might choose to disengage, saying “I’d better get back to work” or “I’d rather not talk about this now,” or you might calmly offer your opinion if you judge your interlocutor to be trustworthy.
At the same time, try to listen with an open mind if conversation wanders to political debate; as you try to understand where your colleagues are coming from you might surprise yourself and strengthen your relationships with them, even if you must agree to disagree.
Finally, if things get really tough, you could start a mental swear jar—every time someone praises Empress Moldywart or bemoans the loss of Queenie Wannabe, you could add a quarter to your monthly donation to the political organization of your choice.
I am one of the few female faculty in my department and feel like I am often the person to whom many students turn for advice, support, and what seems like therapy. I appreciate that my students trust me to provide them such support, but I am not sure this is really what I am here for?
That feeling you’re having is backed up by data. Around the world women, especially women of color, engage in unpaid care work at a higher proportion than men. You wonder whether that’s what you’re here for, and the easiest way to tell is to look at your job title. Are you a licensed therapist? If not, you may be doing more harm than good as you give students armchair therapy.
While most of us strive to be caring advisors to our students beyond the lecture hall or lab, we must also recognize our own limitations as we support them in their endeavors, academic or otherwise. As has been widely reported, campuses across the United States are facing a mental-health crisis. The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a guide to helping what they call “today’s anguished student” that might be useful to you.
In the meantime, employ your skills as a researcher to connect students to resources that are appropriate to the problems they are dealing with. Check in with your university’s counseling services and academic advising to find out what sort of reporting mechanisms they have in place; ask your Title IX office for resources about your responsibilities if a student reports harassment or assault; and be sure to tend to your own mental health with support from family, friends, or licensed professionals as you navigate this stressful situation.
Dilemma? Send your questions to Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org!