(Academic) new years resolutions, 2010-11 edition

Here at Carleton, we still have a few weeks to go before the start of school, but school has been on my mind lately because things are definitely gearing up around here.  The start of a new school year is the time I choose to make resolutions, because this time of year feels more like a fresh start than January 1 does.

In last year’s resolutions post, I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on:

…I have one resolution:  To find the sweet spot in my own life that allows me to work productively and sustainably.  To figure out how to work effectively and efficiently and to make the time for my family and for taking care of myself.  To not end the term, or the school year, in a frenzied and frazzled state, but rather to work calmly, consistently and productively.  To find a balance that makes me happy and fulfilled, but still allows me to get my job done to my satisfaction.

I can’t say I did perfectly in this area, but I can say that I have a better awareness of where my time goes, and even if I don’t always do a great job of prioritizing, I’m getting much better at it—and much more willing to focus my energies on what’s important to me.  I’ll give myself a B- for last year.

This year I’m in a much more settled state:  I have tenure.  (I have tenure!!)  My research is in a very stable state and is progressing wonderfully.  Most of the courses I’m teaching this year are ones I’ve taught many times before.  I feel much more comfortable in my own skin, career-wise.

And yet, looking ahead, this is going to be a very challenging year.  With tenure comes greater responsibilities.  My service load is especially heavy this year.  I want to keep my research momentum going—-and it’s time to start thinking more long-term as well, and figure out just where is all this research going?  And of course there’s teaching:  I’m here because I want to teach, I want to be an excellent teacher, and I want to give my students the best class experience possible.  Tenure brings freedom to, for the first time, freely and critically evaluate what I want to do in the classroom—but this, too, is a great responsibility.

So with this in mind, I have three resolutions for the academic year—and, coincidentally, each one touches on a different aspect of my job:

  1. (teaching) To become a better storyteller. This is something I blogged about earlier this year.  Stories, particularly the stories behind the people who invented the algorithm/hardware/programming language we’re discussing, the technology we take for granted, etc., can be a very powerful way to put CS into context.  I’ve concentrated, in the past, a lot on current news stories to present context, but history lessons can be just as powerful.
  2. (research) To figure out exactly “what I am”. My research straddles a few subfields.  I’m fine with that, but it sometimes leads to problems when figuring out how to pitch my work, where to send my work, etc.  It also means that I don’t really feel like a part of any one community:  I’m not “really” a networking researcher, or a multimedia researcher, or an HCI researcher, …. This year I’d like to get a better sense of what spaces and subfields I’d like to inhabit, and become more involved in those communities.  I’m hoping this exercise will also help me do some strategic long-term research planning—where do I want my research to be in 5, 10 years?
  3. (service, kind of) To keep things in check. I hesitate to use “balance” because it can be a loaded term and I know balance is kind of a pipe dream this year.  Instead, I just want to make sure that I keep my service responsibilities, along with everything else, manageable, so that I can also enjoy my family and my down time and the other things that are important to me.

What are your resolutions for the new school year?