Monday, January 29
I recently got an internal grant to start a research project that could be the beginning of so many things. It's fabulous, fabulous news, but there's one small (yet significant) part of preparation for that research that I am unable to do myself.

Of course, knowing that I'm clueless about such things, I budgeted money to hire an expert (or at least someone with working knowledge) in that area, so I've got money to spend. But now I'm feeling a little like Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive - I can't find anyone willing to work on the project.

I come from a place where people jump at the chance to make some extra cash. Here, it seems, no one needs it. So now I'm stuck, with money to spend and tenure to lose.

Where's Richard Gere, or at least a talented gerbil, when you need him?
Thursday, January 25
I wish I could say, like Fraud, that I like my job, but my dirty little secret is that, at the moment, I don't!

My god, the whining, the never-ending whining. Most of it is from students that either can't or won't read simple instructions (much less the reading assigned for class!), and were apparently never taught the rudiments of polite behavior (hint, when calling a professor to ask a question, it is generally a good idea to preface the question in some way, perhaps by using the word "Hello"). These are upper level students, and I have to wonder how they made it this far. And that query is, at root, why I hate my job currently. Is that the ideal we are espousing? Because it's not what I signed up for -- I signed up to be a professor, not a teacher, to lead students to knowledge and make the introductions, not consummate the relationship for them.

I love the research part of my job right now, and, gee, it would be nice if I could do some of it instead of pandering to lazy little brats, covering for lazy old faculty, and teaching too many courses.

Someday soon, I hope that I can again say that I love my job, but right now the joy isn't here, just the overwhelmingness and overwork. I'm not bitter though, not at all. Because I'm sure that teaching is important for tenure!
Sunday, January 21
I think that I have a great job.

I was walking across campus today, coffee in hand, getting ready to return to a "bang-your-head-against-the-wall" task (I'm writing a grant proposal, and feeling so frustrated lately) and I was genuinely content. For a brief moment I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad." The thing is, I think that a lot.

A part of me thinks that as an academic I'm supposed to be stressed out, frazzled, miserable, over-worked, under-paid, and generally unhappy. Don't get me wrong, I perpetually feel 27 steps behind (although this doesn't seem to inpsire me to do much about it), but I also feel really lucky to do what I do.

I think it's the autonomy - the amount of control I have over what I do, when I do it, how I do it, and so forth - that's the opiate of academics, at least for me.

What makes you love or hate your own position?

(Maybe I should check back in tomorrow. This optimism might be fleeting. Maybe there's more of that unhappy academic in me than this post suggests, or it's just waiting to rear its ugly head).
Tuesday, January 16
I'm pretty sure I've complained before about the thesis committee meeting I should have scheduled about six months ago. I gave up on it at some point last year because I was sick of repeatedly being ignored by one committee member (the chair, in fact). I recently started trying to organize it again, after being threatened with not being able to register, but I feel like giving up again.
First, I sent out a list of 15 possible times and one committee member's assistant vetoed every one of them. Then, I emailed that assistant twice, asking for some guidance on what would be a better month before I spammed the whole committee with another long list of dates that wouldn't work. No reply. Today, I gave up on that idea and just sent a list of 30 possible times. Immediately I get a reply from the assistant who ignored me, saying only two of those might work (and pointing out that one of the dates I suggested was a holiday). I've still heard nothing from the chair, who I'm beginning to suspect doesn't use email at all. The phone number I have just rang and rang without even going to voicemail, too.
Any hints on getting three professors in a room together sometime before I get kicked out for failing to have this meeting?

Update: It's a miracle! I just got an email from the previously email-less chair! Maybe I should post here every time I have a seemingly insoluble problem. :)
Sunday, January 14
I am overwhelmed with everything going on so I was just thinking: I need to take a mental health day today. Even though I have a bunch of things on my work to-do list, I may just skip work today. But I started feeling very weird and guilty about this idea. Is it okay to take a mental health day? The idea has never occured to me before and it's certainly not something I've ever done, not consciously anyway. I pondered this for a few minutes.

Then suddenly I realized that this whole line of questioning was insane. Why? Because it is Sunday AND I'm actually sick, as in physical ache and pain in my body due to some stupid bug. And despite all that, the only "excuse" I could come up with for not working was a "mental health day"!

I think this just answered my question: I am definitely due for a mental health day.
Thursday, January 4
One of the best things about winter vacation is the time for reading and reflection. I started by actually reading the book for my reading group (which means that I am allowed to speak - a written rule, one must read to speak - at the upcoming meeting, unlike the last one), and then read a few books tangentially related to my research and teaching that I've been putting off, and today I revisited an old self-help favorite, Loving What Is.

The Work is a process where you analyze a stressful belief by reflecting on four questions. A belief like, "I'm a failure" (hey, some fleeting beliefs we have are this outlandish). You ask yourself:

1. Is it true? (Uh, this paper got rejected for the third time. That sucks, but does it mean I'm a failure? Nah.)
2. Can you absolutely know it's true? (How does one measure "failureness"? If that can't be done, then I can't absolutely know I'm a failure.)
3. How do you react when you think that thought? (Well, it makes me want to go home, or close my work window and open Napster, or, most importantly, gives me an excuse not to send out this other paper I've been working on.)
4. Who would you be without this thought? (If I didn't have this nagging, negative self-belief I would be a confident academic, who could focus on their work and not on their faults).

My favorite part of the process is actually a fifth step (although it's not called a step), the turnaround. In the turnaround you do something to turn your thought around. You turn the thought around to yourself or another or to the opposite or to realizing it's a simple thought. So, if you choose the opposite option, "I'm a failure" becomes "I'm a success" (you could also turn it into "The paper is a failure" or "I only think I'm a failure" or something else). Then, as the second part of the turnaround, you ask yourself. Is that statement true, or truer? Using my own fleeting thought, and my own personal experiences, I have many important successes that trump my failures, and the turnaround is actually the truest of the two.

Sometimes we're so good at beating ourselves up that the more "comfortable" thought is the immediate one and the turnaround it a tough pill to swallow. It's worth it, though. When you're thinking to yourself, "I can't finish this paper," and it's actually that you know that you can finish the paper, it's both liberating and scary at the same time because you have to do it, and you know you can.

I went back and forth about writing this post, but I think that academics spend a lot of time in their own worlds, and that those worlds can sometimes get depressing and self-defeating, and for me The Work works to get me through some of those times (ice cream sometimes works too).