Tuesday, August 8
I was attending a workshop yesterday when I leaned over to the person next to me and said, "For psychological reasons, I need to leave now."

As devoted Scarleteers know, I am currently contemplating faking my own death to get away from a complicated and seemingly ever expanding set of academic obligations that I feel are strangling my intellectual vitality and squandering the time I have for pre-decrepitude life. Parallel to this has been involvement in a series of professional activities that have involved wild, even flamboyant, mismanagement of the time of large groups of people including myself. As a.secret readers are likely already aware, much of academic power involves the capacity to command the polite relinquishment of other people's time.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel connected to yesterday's workshop that involved me spending several hours traveling to give what was already going to be a rushed 10-15 minute talk--with slides I spent hours the day before fussing over--but then because of unrealistic/insensitive time management ended up with me having 3-5 minutes, during which the most important person in the audience was out on a bathroom-and-Blackberry break. I felt humiliated, like I was back in junior high and desperately trying to get other kids' parents to spend a few seconds looking over my science fair project, and I spent much of the trip home doodling pictures of myself as an escape artist freeing herself from complicated arrangements of chains and cages that still seem more tractable than various shackles associated with this job.

At yesterday's workshop, the first session was scheduled for 90 minutes and finished more than an hour later than it was supposed to. This included one talk where a painfully boring speaker went double his allotted time without a peep from the session's disorganizer. Thing was, I think people were genuinely enthusiastic for the overall lineup of presentations that day, and you could just see the enthusiasm in the room wilt because of the mismanagement.

At the end, the disorganizer announced various revisions to the schedule--mostly, radically cutting back on the breaks scheduled to keep everyone refreshed--necessitated by the first session running so far over. I decided instead that I was going to leave the workshop when the second session was scheduled to end, even though I could have stayed longer. I didn't want to reward those running the conference with still more my time when they showed such a cavalier attitude toward the value of my time by not keeping control of the schedule. The result was me missing a couple presentations I had actually been looking forward to, and my leaving early wasn't exactly fair to those presenters. Fact is, though, I felt wonderful walking out of there, like a doormat that suddenly springs to life, stands up, and spits on its owner's shoes.

Passive aggressive, obviously. And yes, I know I should send an e-mail to the disorganizer urging him to make more of an effort to stick to the posted schedule in the future. Unfortunately, the workshop is part of a larger situation in which I need to choose my battles, and, for this one, I'm just going to fight with my feet for the time being.

4 comments:

Chartreuse Circe said...

You are totally spot-on here, Scarlet. Also with the junior-high humiliation.

I particularly like "much of academic power involves the capacity to command the polite relinquishment of other people's time" which is absolutely accurate and I hadn't thought of in those terms before.

I'd probably have sat through other talks, because I wouldn't have the guts to leave. I like the way you chose to fight this battle -- you've accepted that you don't have time to write, but that you did have time (and could salvage some more) by leaving. Nice call.

twilight blue said...

You go girl! I'd much prefer that you disappear from the occasional meeting than altogether! Though, I suppose that since Academic Secret is secret, you could blog here even after faking your own death?

I observe academic power operating also in the capacity to command polite applause and obsequious inquiries following vacuous presentations. I have a deal with a colleague that should we ever be one of "those professors," whose self esteem seems to rely so entirely on the adulation of graduate students, post-docs, etc., she will kick me, hard.

Cerise said...

Once, when I was on a presentation line-up where the moderator was doing nothing and the person ahead of me was going obviously, drastically, over time, I started passing her notes about it, e.g. "You were supposed to be done five minutes ago!" I'm fairly sure she still dislikes me. I don't care.

The moderator still required me to do my presentation in the 10 minutes left in the session rather than the 20 each participant had been allotted, though.

thistle said...

You inspire me, Scarlet.

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