Sunday, January 17, 2016

Carving Out Time

I've blogged about how I loved the focused time I had in Oxford: where I had the luxury of being able to concentrate on one thing at a time. One of the challenges this school year is carving out the time for my non-teaching work.

I'm sure all professors can attest to the fact that there's a lot of working that happens outside teaching. I'm not referring to the activities directly related to teaching like class preparation and grading, but to service and scholarly activities. Though my experience is at a small private Christian university, talking to colleagues at other larger public universities, there's a common theme of non-teaching work.

Club Sponsoring at Induction Night in the Fall
I remember being surprised my first semester of teaching with the amount of work it took to build a class. Especially when you're an inexperienced, naive professor. Then I felt overwhelmed the first few years of teaching as I was expected to do more than just teach. Fresh from graduate school, I wanted to 'just teach.' I didn't have the talent or desire to pursue a 'publish or perish' career. I didn't know much about a world of research that didn't fit the model I saw at a Big 12 state university in graduate school. I thought that since I didn't want to be that type of professor, my option was to only teach. Thankfully, I had strong encouragement from my VPAA and dean during this time to work on scholarly projects especially to get rank and tenure. Along the way, I discovered that I liked working on non-teaching writing. Currently, I carry a full teaching load and sometimes might be over an hour or two during some semesters. A few years ago, I started scheduling time for me to do scholarly work into my week. It helped, but as a semester gets busier, it's hard to protect that time from meetings, class preparation, and students.

Casen is a planner like his mama. He had already used all of his video game time one night, but he was concerned about remembering what he wanted to do on Minecraft during his next video game time. So like any good planner he made a list. Except he actually drew his list out.
Coming back from Oxford and preparing for next summer, I have work to do on my project. The project has multiple parts. I have funding to get a science and religion club started on campus. I have an RA through the program that helps with this task (along with a few other students we've recruited).  My RA is also helping me with literature review and working on a paper herself. The biggest part of the project is my writing about aesthetics in science related to molecular symmetry and getting it published. I need to show progress on the project, but there's also the expectation that it continues after this summer. This past fall was a challenge to get much work done on the project. With the Oxford experience, I'm having the opportunities to speak on campus which is time-consuming, but definitely worth the time. Between my other projects this year and teaching pchem, my fall time was limited.

Some of the pchem grading I did last semester.
There's something about a page full of equations that I find beautiful.
I get a course release this spring as part of my Oxford program so that will help free up some time to write. I also have no new classes or any major overhauls (e.g. different textbook) this semester. Those things will help, but like last semester, I will end up working more hours in order to meet deadlines and make some headway on my project. Working nights (many times after they're in bed) or part of the weekend is getting to be part of the routine. I've gotten some practice holding kids in one arm while I'm typing out a response to an email.

One thing I discovered from my time in Oxford was that I really enjoy this new challenge. I'm a better professor, too. I don't feel burned out like I was beginning to feel last year. As the new year begins, I'm mindful of trying to balance between work and the rest of my life.

L Child played DJ with Spotify while I worked.