Over at Small Pond Science, I have a post today about how the events at last week’s Grace Hopper conference led to a discussion about better preparing our students to navigate less-supportive environments, particularly in jobs, internships, and research positions. Check it out, and if you have any insights to share, join in the conversation in the comments!
Every year, I look forward to attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I enjoy being in a space with so many other talented technical women at all stages of their careers, from students to CTOs, where I can network, meet new people, meet up with old friends, hear about some cool research, get advice, and learn new things. One of the aspects I most enjoy is the “safe space” aspect—it’s nice to be in a space where I am not “other”, where women’s voices are heard and cherished.
When I first looked at the program a couple of weeks ago, I noticed an increased male presence on the program. Which, ok, fine, involving men in the discussion about diversity in tech (or the extreme lack thereof) is in theory an excellent idea, and can be done well and thoughtfully in practice. But there are many, many ways in which these conversations can be executed poorly, and I’ll admit to some trepidation about some aspects of the program.
Unfortunately, these conversations at Grace Hopper were executed poorly, with a level of overall tone deafness that I find astounding. (I’m not surprised at the tone deafness itself, but rather at the level of tone deafness exhibited.)
First, there was yesterday’s Male Allies panel. Full disclosure: I did not attend this talk, but you can read about it in all its spectacular train wreckiness. One of my students showed me a filled out Bingo card from the event. The only positive thing I can say is that at least the most egregious things on the card were not checked off, but other than that….ugh. If these are our male allies, then we’re in big, big trouble.
But wait, there’s more! This morning’s keynote promised “Satya Nadella [CEO of Microsoft] in conversation with Maria Klawe [President of Harvey Mudd College].” In reality, it was “Maria Klawe [the flippin' President of Harvey Mudd College, let me remind you!] Asks Satya Nadella Questions from the Twitterverse.” Yeah. It wasn’t all a train wreck, I suppose. Until Satya made a comment about how women should trust the system and not ask for raises. Yes, that’s right, women in tech, if you just work hard enough then the universe will recognize your contributions and you’ll get your due, so don’t make a fuss and put your head down and get back to work, sweetie!
Yep. Tone. Deaf.
Frankly, I am disheartened, and most of all disappointed, in the Anita Borg Institute and the program committee. Is it important to involve men in these discussions? Yes. Is it important to have panels on male allies? Absolutely. But for the love of all that is good and holy, let’s make sure that those allies actually act like allies and have a clue. Let’s make sure those discussions don’t continue the stereotypes and tired tropes. Let’s get people who actually know what they are talking about, who follow and promote best practices, who don’t put all the burden/blame on women (and who understand the very real consequences that women experience when they do choose to speak out and speak up), and most importantly, who know their blind spots and are willing to listen and learn and improve.
Let’s let Maria Klawe and Satya Nadella have an actual, substantive, and frank conversation about how the culture in tech is not all that it could be and discuss concrete ideas for how that might change. Let’s have women on the male allies panel, or better yet, have a male allies workshop and better equip men to be effective allies. Let’s vet these things better, for pete’s sake!
Please, just please, organizers of GHC, let’s not have a repeat of the train wreck this year. I expect much better from you.
Earlier this year, in a YOLO/carpe diem moment (or possibly a moment of insanity), I decided to sign up for a marathon. I’d been contemplating the marathon for a while as something I’d do “someday”. But I’d been running injury-free for over a year, completed a few half-marathons and was enjoying running longer distances, and realized that schedule-wise, I could train for a full marathon this year with minimal disruption to our family’s schedule and my husband’s racing schedule (he’s a Cat 3 cyclist). So I signed up, found a training plan, and jumped in.
Things were going well, really well….until they weren’t. (Damn you, weak glutes!) I injured my IT band and had to scale back on my training for a few weeks. Luckily, I have a fantastic doctor and a fantastic physical therapist, and thanks to them I’m healing, getting stronger, and most importantly, back to training.
Yesterday, my physical therapist and I sat down to sketch out a modified training plan for the remaining 32 days (eek!) until the marathon. The plan I’d been following had 4 days of running, 2 days of cross-training, and 1 rest day, which is typical. To allow me to continue to heal and ensure I get the necessary training miles in, the modified plan has me running 4 days (and doing therapy exercises on those days as well), and 3 days of complete rest. No cross training, no “oh come on, just a really easy workout?”—REST.
It should come as no surprise to long-time readers that the rest part is hard for me. Really, really hard. But I know that my physical therapist is absolutely correct. My runs have felt harder lately because the right muscles are now firing and doing what they’re supposed to do, and my body got used to doing things the wrong way biomechanically for so long, so now everything is SORE and I fatigue a lot more quickly. (It’s kind of like I’m a beginner again.) The rest, therefore, is as crucial to my training as the speedwork, the long run, the tempo run, etc. Without the rest, I won’t be able to run the distances I need to do or hit the speeds I need to reach during training, which means I won’t be fully prepared for race day.
Of course it’s not lost on me that this same principle should apply to my work life, too. In my last post I wrote about the very real burnout I was feeling, and how this burnout was as much a result of overcommitment as it was a result of not having a break this summer. I’m not prioritizing rest, and when I don’t prioritize rest, my productivity (and health!) suffer. My dad, many years ago when I was in grad school, pulled me aside and said “it’s great that you work so hard, but you need to take weekends off. At the very least, you need one work-free day per week.” And he’s absolutely right—we all need time away from work, time to do other things, time to let our thoughts wander and to breathe. These things all help with focus, and productivity, and creativity.
So as I’m completing my marathon training this month, and as we head into a new trimester in a couple of weeks, I’m working on incorporating the “rest mentality” beyond my athletic life into my work life. I’m figuring out ways that I can incorporate rest and rejuvenation into my daily and work life, in ways that are both sustainable and useful to me, so that I can be a better, more productive worker, but also, more importantly, a happier, healthier, more relaxed person. I’m reminding myself that rest is as important, and indeed more important, than Inbox Zero or ticking off every single thing on the to-do list or basically working myself into the ground.
Let’s see if I can actually make this work this time….
Summer is supposed to be a season of rejuvenation for academics. While research and service obligations remain, we get a break from teaching. Theoretically, since teaching is the major part of my job, this should mean that my summer schedule is (a) more low key, (b) more relaxing, (c) less time consuming, and (d) less stressful.
This summer, my schedule was none of these.
In retrospect, it was a perfect storm. By the end of spring term, I was exhausted and completely burned out. However, I went right from spring term into finals grading frenzy and graduation, and from that right into working with my (amazing, wonderful, and extraordinarily productive, thank god!) undergraduate research students. (I finished my grades on a Friday, went to graduation on Saturday, and was in the lab with my students on Monday.) I had a couple of major service tasks that carried on into the summer, one of which took up about 3 orders of magnitude more time and 4 orders of magnitude more drama than I anticipated. I had the drama of submitting a paper at the last minute, finding out it was accepted at the last minute, and then having to create and ship a poster off overseas since I couldn’t travel to the conference (see: last minute notification). And I once again taught in our CS program for high school students (while juggling the paper drama, service drama, and supervising undergraduate research). Oh, and chairing a department, unfortunately, does not take a hiatus during the summer.
What this means is that I’m still burned out and exhausted, and I’m worried about being in this state of mind going into the new academic year. However, the good news is that we’re on trimesters, so we still have a few weeks before the fall term starts. (Whew!) Also, next week I finally, FINALLY, get to take a break (although, sadly, not from email, since we’re too close to the start of the year). While I know this won’t completely rejuvenate me, it’s a start.
One of the silver linings of the Summer of Craziness is that I’ve done some serious reflection on the ways in which I commit and overcommit myself. By the end of the last academic year, I was burned out in general, but mainly burned out on service. The service activities I did that used to bring me joy were now causing me stress, either because the workload was larger or different than I’d been led to believe, or because people weren’t sharing the load equally. I also took on too much, because I misestimated the lifecycles of various projects. I’ve since quit the activities that were no longer bringing me joy, and said no to a bunch of requests that have come in recently. (I’ve discovered a magic phrase: “I am overcommitted, but here’s the name and contact info of someone who might be able to help.”)
Jettisoning a lot of this service work has been very freeing. And it’s allowed me to jump on an opportunity that really excites me. For a while, I’ve been lamenting that I don’t have time to volunteer in my kids’ lives. Now I do, and so this year I’ll be co-leading my daughter’s Brownie Girl Scout troop! I should note that this is something that’s a bit out of my comfort zone, and there have been moments that my co-leader and I have said to each other “what did we get ourselves into?”, but I am super excited to do something totally different in the name of service, and be a role model to younger girls. My daughter is excited, too, and happy that we’re doing something we both share and believe in together. And who knows, maybe we can work some CS concepts into one of the badges or journeys or whatever!
So this year, after my much-needed and much-deserved break, I’ll return to whip my syllabus into shape, help our new faculty member settle in, advise our newest students, and figure out realistically what the attention span is of the second grade set. And that is a challenge I’m really looking forward to.
I’ve posted here in the past about my
obsession concern with spaces and what they signal: who’s welcome here, what kind of work is done here, etc. I’ve been thinking about space again recently—specifically, research space and recruitment to the field and how the two intersect.
A bit of background: Last year Carleton started a new computer science summer program for high school students. The program lasts 3 weeks, and consists of classes in the mornings and guided research in the afternoons. I teach an HCI (human-computer interaction) module in this program, and my guided research group works on HCI projects related to my actual research.
Last year, when I taught in the program, I had pretty much the perfect lab space for my guided research group. It was one of our CS labs. Only half the room has computers, and these are pretty nicely spaced out. The room also features windows/natural light, lots of whiteboard space, and a sitting/collaboration/conversation area. The space allowed people to move around freely, sketch out ideas, and step away from the computer from time to time.
Due to room availability and other issues, I won’t have this lab space again this year. Instead, my research group will be housed in our new teaching lab. While this space is great as a teaching space, it’s not so great as a collaborative space. Here’s what the layout looks like, roughly:
The computers are in rigid rows on immovable tables. There’s a fair amount of whiteboard space, but it’s all in the front of the room. It’s harder to move around, and there’s no space to step away from the computers.
The worst part for me? No windows! (The horror!)
My challenge is to find a way to turn this space into a more collaborative, welcoming space. Not only do I want to make it more workable for the type of research work my students will be doing, but I also want to make it less clinical/sterile and more warm—because this will be the primary working space for high school students whom we’d like to become computer scientists someday, and there’s not much about this space that says that computer science is fun or welcoming or collaborative.
So how do I plan to pull this off?
- Removing some of the computers and half of the chairs from the room. This will free up some table space for sketching, conversations, and planning away from the computer, and improve the walking flow around the room.
- Large sticky note pads and markers, to make up for the lack of whiteboards around the room. I’d love for the walls of the room to be covered with sketches, lists, mockups, user stories, etc. by the end of the program!
- Designating the front of the room as our large group meeting space. Sometimes we’ll need to discuss things without the distraction of the computers, and it turns out there’s enough room in the front to pull up chairs and chat as a group. (It will be a little tight, but it will work.)
- Pictures on the walls, to make up for the lack of windows. I’m thinking nature pictures, so that maybe we’ll forget about the lack of windows!
I haven’t been able to do any of this yet since there’s some construction going on in the room, but I’ll be curious to see how things work out next week when I’m able to get in there and start rearranging things, and see if I can make my vision a reality. It will also be interesting to see if these few cosmetic changes will really change the feel and environment of the room, or if the signals in the room will be too strong to overcome. Regardless, it’s an interesting experience and challenge, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out in the end.
Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of becoming department chair. (I celebrated by driving my kids around to various appointments all afternoon and making about 1,000 rainbow loom bracelets with my daughter. Ah, the exciting life of a working mom.) While the first year went quickly, I won’t lie: there were times when I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the year, or not come into work sleep deprived yet again. As with everything in life, there have been good parts and bad parts, and I thought it would be useful to reflect and summarize how my first year went.
Being in this position has reminded me that I work at a truly terrific institution, with thoughtful and creative colleagues and a supportive administration. We’ve dealt with some tricky issues as a department this year, and the conversations around them have been thoughtful and considerate. We listen to each other even when we disagree with each other. I’m so grateful to work in such a highly functioning environment with colleagues that I both like and respect, and in many ways they have made my job so much easier this year.
While there is a lot of truth to the observation that being in charge of faculty in any capacity is like herding cats, I have actually been able to “be the change I want to see” in my department. For a long time, I’ve had a vision for the department’s environment, the way we present ourselves, and the way we carry out our business, and I’ve been able to start implementing parts of that vision this year, with some early successes. I’m grateful that my colleagues are on board, but it’s also thrilling to know that I can actually cause change in our department and that I can influence our environment and policies.
On a related note, I enjoy that I’m in a position that allows me to think more long-term about the success of the department, and to direct how we have those long-term conversations. Being chair allows me to set the priorities of the department—in consultation with my colleagues, of course!—and to direct our collective attention. Every time I craft a department meeting agenda, I get to engage in this type of thinking: how do we balance the things that need immediate attention with the things we need to discuss for the long-term health of the department? It’s a different type of creativity.
Finally, I’m a problem solver at heart, and this job involves a lot of problem solving. Sometimes I have to think quickly on my feet, and sometimes I get the luxury of taking a step back and weighing the different options. I enjoy the challenge of both types of problem solving, and the satisfaction of finding a solution that, if not everyone is happy with, at least everyone can live with.
Workload. Workload workload workload. There’s only so much I can delegate, and even with judicious delegating, the workload still felt oppressive at times. There’s always some paperwork that needs my attention, or some task that needs to be done, or a budget item that needs to be reviewed, or a question/issue from a student or colleague. It. Never. Ends.
My time is no longer my own. In an ideal world, I’d start my day with my office door closed, working on research or doing some last-minute class prep, for an hour or so, before even opening my email. In the real world, I check my email first thing because there’s usually something I have to deal with Right Now (or more commonly, 5 Minutes Ago). My research in particular has taken a huge hit as a result, but there were some days that I’d go into class less prepared than I’m comfortable with because something came up at the last minute.
Relatedly, running a search is a major time suck. Everyone in the department is busy during hiring season, especially in a small department like ours where all tenure-track faculty and all staff participate in the process. But traditionally in our department, department chair = search chair, and the search chair’s load is at least 5x everyone else’s load (save for the admin). And calling perfectly wonderful people to let them know they are no longer under consideration for our position? Well that sucks about as much as you can imagine. (That said, making the call to invite someone to campus or offer them the position, and getting to meet our short list via Skype interviews? That stuff is fun!)
The learning curve? Steep. Very steep. I’m hoping some stuff that seemed to take me forever this year will take me less time next year, since I’ll have done it already, but there’s so much I don’t know that I spend a lot of time learning, and looking things up, and hunting things down, and calling people when all else fails.
Finally, having to hold people accountable is difficult. I’m a pretty dependable person, and I tend to naively assume that everyone else generally behaves that way too. Not so. I spend more time than I’d care to admit chasing people down for things, many of whom should know better by now. Sometimes I also have to hold people accountable for their less-than-stellar behavior—thankfully, this is fairly uncommon, but let’s just say that sometimes people don’t think of the larger consequences (to the department, to their colleagues or students) before acting, and sometimes I have to be the one to clean up the ensuing mess.
Oh come on, you didn’t think I’d actually be able to share the train wrecks, did you? Thankfully, there wasn’t much in the Ugly category, but the stuff there is definitely unbloggable. I will say this: the ugly stuff always came without warning and typically forced me to drop everything and deal with it immediately, and was usually people-related. If there’s a silver lining, this year’s Ugly stuff did highlight some “blind spots” in the way we operate, all of which are fixable, and all of which will be fixed. I’m not so naive to think that this will preclude any more Ugly stuff from happening, but I’m hoping it will lessen the probability of this year’s flavor of Ugly stuff from happening.
So there you have it. I survived, I learned a ton…and I need to figure out a way to clone myself. I’m looking forward to the challenges of my second year as chair and hoping that some of it comes easier, or at least is more expected, than this year.
The plan is to blog over there about once a month, on the general theme of “doing science” at teaching-centered institutions. I will still blog here as well, hopefully less sporadically than of late. I’m excited for this new blogging adventure!