“Time off” for academics

It starts up about this time of year:  well-meaning friends, relatives, strangers off the street, acquaintances, etc. say to me some variation of, “Well!  Aren’t you glad that classes are over for the term?  So what are you going to do with all that time off?

Indeed.  What am I doing in my five weeks “off”?

  • Majorly revamping my intro course.  I’m moving from the traditional topic-based approach (strings, loops, conditionals, functions, classes, etc) to a case-study approach (cryptography, image processing, data mining).  Which means I have to rewrite all of my in-class activities, lectures, and quizzes, and I have to write an entirely new set of assignments and labs.  I’m very excited about this, but it requires a ton of work.
  • Writing 25 letters of recommendation.  Sure, a lot of those are for the same students, but each school wants something a little different, and/or has their own online form that asks slightly different questions, etc.  So even once I have the letters written, it will still take some time to tweak/submit them for each school.
  • Revising and resubmitting a journal article.  This is the second round of revisions, and in the grand scheme of things the revisions are minor (no new experiments or analysis, just argument reframing), but it will take some careful thinking and phrasing to get it right if I want it to come back as an “accept” next time.  Plus, there’s the letter to the editor that needs to be drafted, and those take some time too.
  • Miscellaneous computer stuff.  I need to move my research repositories from CVS to Subversion, install Subversion on my laptop, and upgrade my laptop to 10.6 from 10.4 so that I can create podcasts for my classes on my laptop, and not have to wait until I’m in my office.
  • Strategic research planning.  I’ll be hiring a new batch of students in the winter.  I need to figure out what they’ll be working on, and figure out how to get them up to speed quickly on the project.  I’ll be running a new round of experiments in the winter (hopefully) too, which means we might will  have to update the measurement tool, and think carefully about recruiting subjects, and set up the testbed, and do a million other little things to make sure things go off without a hitch.  Plus I am going to start hiring summer researchers in January, and I need to think carefully about what I want them to do this summer.  Oh, and there are a zillion follow-up things to the real-time stream quality prediction paper I presented last week that I need to get moving on, because we’ll need something beyond preliminary results in order to move forward!
  • Trying not to contemplate the fact that at this very moment, a committee of my colleagues is determining whether I will have job security for life, or whether I will be out on the streets (metaphorically) come June.  Yeah, that’s not stressful at all….
  • Co-organizing a regional women in computing conference.  In October, when my co-organizer and I were discussing dates, we thought a mid-February date would give us plenty of time to get everything done.  Ha.  Ha ha ha ha ha.  February is way too soon, people!  I need to have a program ready by, well, yesterday.  Plus I need to be stalking confirming our potential keynote speakers, setting deadlines for posters and session proposals, and doing a number of small detail-y things.

And this is in addition to all of the December holiday-stuff too.

So yes, in a sense I am “off”, but just from the day-to-day teaching.  And I’m not writing this from a woe-is-me-I’m-so-overworked perspective (although I am, and you should feel free to send me chocolate.  Or wine.  Or both.).  But I think it’s important that we keep shining the light on what we academics do, day-to-day, so that non-academics understand that being a professor does not mean we “only” work the number of hours a week that we are physically in the classroom, and that while this is a very rewarding job, it does not come without costs or stress.

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