A snapshot of (the quickly ending) Fall Term

It’s Week 9 of our 10 week Fall Term, and I am sitting here wondering just where the hell September and October went. Seriously, wasn’t yesterday the start of the term? (Guess I should take “Goals for Fall Term” out of the blog post idea queue, then….)

It’s been a busy fall term, and it feels like I have a lot more on my plate than usual. I chalk this up to a combination of a number of projects currently on my plate plus continuing recovery from my broken elbow this summer. All of it interesting (for varying definitions of “interesting”). So here’s a look at some of what I’ve been up to the past couple of months.

Teaching: Revisiting an Old Favorite Class

I love teaching Intro. I love guiding students through their first (or one of their first) experiences with programming, algorithm design, and algorithmic thinking. I love the pace of the class, the creativity my students bring to the projects and in-class exercises, the material, and even the wide variety of backgrounds and experiences of my students.

I used to teach Intro all the time. But an influx of young ‘uns and visitors and general scheduling oddities meant that I haven’t taught it since Winter 2015. So I was thrilled to see Intro on my schedule twice this year, Fall and Spring term. But also a bit worried: would this be like a new prep for me, given the long-ish layoff?

Complicating matters is that I switched from a textbook I loved, but for which I could no longer justify the hefty price, to a perfectly fine lower cost textbook. Which meant I’d have to rework my reading assignments, at the very least.

The layoff and the textbook switch led me to approach the class as if I hadn’t taught it before. I revisited and revised all of my learning goals. I did a full backwards design of the class. I mapped topics and projects to learning objectives to make sure they still matched and were still relevant. I added a lab on ethics (which I’ll be blogging about in the coming weeks) and replaced the two exams with 5 quizzes (really mini-exams). I committed to using Slack as a communications medium — with, I’ll be honest, a bit of trepidation.

Luckily, the workload has been manageable. I spend a reasonable amount of time prepping (nowhere close to new prep time, but a bit more than “I recently taught this” time). The majority of my class is first year students, which makes for a really neat class dynamic — and I’m really enjoying the mix of personalities. I truly look forward to teaching every MWF and I’m having a good time in the classroom. The Slack experiment is going better than expected — and has been extremely useful for sharing code with students during and after class. All in all, it’s been a most excellent return to the realm of Intro CS!

Research: Papers, Papers, Papers

Being at an undergraduate-only institution means my research collaborators are undergraduate students. And I’ve lucked out in the student department lately. I have two amazing student researchers, both now junior CS majors, who have worked with me since last spring. They designed and ran their own experiment this summer, and even recruited an interviewee, conducting and then transcribing the interview, too! This fall, we’ve concentrated on analyzing the results from the summer experiment, and are using these results to plan out our next set of experiments.

My stretch goal for my students was to have them submit an extended abstract to the student research competition at SIGCSE, since SIGCSE’s in Minneapolis next year. I’m happy to say they met this goal! I have no idea how reviewers will receive our work, but in any case, it was a good experience for my students — and a good opportunity for me to reflect on where the work is now and where we should go next.

My students are working on one aspect of my larger research project, and my goal this fall was to primarily work on that as well. But, I have a rejected conference paper that I’ve been sitting on since last spring, from the other aspect of my project. And I happened to stumble upon a CFP for a conference that’s a pretty good fit for the paper. And the deadline was a bit uncomfortably close, but not impossibly so. So, I was able to revise that paper and get it back out into the review stream. Bonus: revising that paper helped me think through the next stages of that project, and I’ve moved that project back into the rotation. Our upcoming long break between Fall and Winter terms will be the perfect time to get some sustained work on that project completed, and move me towards my next conference paper.

So, I went from maybe 1 paper-ish thing submitted to 2 paper-ish things submitted! Gold star for me.

Career Planning: What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

I’ve had the idea in the back of my head that someday, maybe, I’d go into academic administration. Within the past year or so, I decided to explore this path more proactively. I did the scary thing of VERBALIZING TO A DEAN that I was contemplating administration. I applied for a few grants (unsuccessfully) that would have funded some leadership-type projects I’ve been considering. (I’m still working on the projects, just without the funding.) I mentioned my goals in conversation with faculty colleagues from other liberal arts schools at Tapia.

Lately, I’ve taken this up a notch or 5.

First, I was accepted to, and am participating in, the HERS Institute at Wellesley this academic year. The homework, and the activities and sessions at the first weekend in October, have been extremely useful so far. And a bit scary, since some (many?) of them drive me outside my comfort zone. My cohort is full of amazing, inspiring, energetic women — my 60 new colleague best friends. 🙂 I’ve figured out so much about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, my unstated goals, already! I feel like this experience is preparing me very well for whatever comes next in my career — and has helped me thing more broadly and expansively about the possibilities. The next session is coming up next weekend, and I can’t wait!

Second, and scarier: I put my name forth for consideration for an administrative position at my institution. No matter what the outcome, putting myself forth has helped me think through my priorities, and will be a good experience for figuring out how to pursue opportunities in the future.

Life: Recovery Takes Time, and a Boatload of Medical Appointments

My newest hobby is attending multiple occupational therapy appointments each week, as I continue to rehabilitate my broken elbow. The good news is that the breaks are completely healed, and I’ve been cleared to do whatever I want! I’ve worked my way slowly back to running, and on Monday I ran 30 minutes nonstop. Which doesn’t seem like much given I’m a 3-time marathoner, but was a huge milestone after months of “just” walking or walk/running to avoid jostling my elbow too much. I can now fully participate in taekwondo, although I still can’t do a full pushup (not even on my knees). But that will come in time. I’ve also started swimming again, and while I need to make a few adjustments to account for my reduced range of motion, swimming has felt good.

The not as good news is that it’s been a long, slow, uncomfortable slog to regain my range of motion and strength. Apparently, elbows are difficult entities. My therapy exercises are uncomfortable and sometimes painful. My progress stalled out for a while (thanks, scar tissue in the elbow!), but I now seem to be moving forward again, thanks to ultrasound and Graston treatments. There is a chance I might need surgery again to clear out the plethora of scar tissue that’s formed in the elbow, but I hope I can avoid that.

I used to scoff when people said they could “feel the weather changing” in their joints. I don’t scoff any more, because this is now my lived experience. I feel old.


Even with everything on my plate, it’s been a manageable term. Sure, some days require some Herculean logistics, and I’ve had to move around my office hours more than I care to admit to accommodate the less-movable OT appointments, but I’ve managed to keep my weekends mostly work-free and my sanity mostly in check. Here’s hoping the end of the term is as manageable as the rest of the term has been (fingers crossed).

 

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Life is an adventure. Sometimes, a really sucky adventure.

My mind was racing a million miles a minute as my daughter and I climbed out of the pool at our gym late afternoon on a hot, sunny day 3 weeks ago. Let’s see, I thought, running through my to-do list: pick up my son from daycamp. Feed daughter and get her to taekwondo. Respond to those emails I blew off earlier in the day. Maybe make some muffins from all that zucchini? Oh, and get the rest of the camping gear into the bins in the garage, to prep for our upcoming 3 week trip —

My legs flew out from under me and for a brief moment I was airborne, out of control. “Oh sh*t,” I thought, milliseconds before I hit the concrete deck, hard, elbow first.

I sat there, stunned, for a couple of minutes, trying to process what just happened. Why is there a candy wrapper stuck to my foot? How did I end up halfway into the coned-off section of the deck (which, as it turns out, was coned off because it was slippery)? I should get up. Just need to put weight on my arms —

I can’t move my right arm.

Uh-oh.

With my daughter’s help, somehow I managed to get up off the deck, dry off somewhat, gather our things, leave the gym, pick up my son, drive all of us home, take a quick shower, and drive myself to urgent care.

X-ray of broken radius and ulna.

Why break just one bone when you can break both your radius and your ulna? #goals

With, as it turns out, 2 broken bones in my elbow.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is my second major injury in a year. Last summer, I tore my plantar fascia, and I’d just finished rehabbing and coming back from that injury. Apparently, I am not as bullet-proof as I’d thought.

The camping trip we’d been planning for months? Out. All the outdoorsy and sporty stuff I do daily? Also out. Crafting? I’m right handed, so nope. Work? Sure, but you’ll have to type with just your left hand….

I took up some new hobbies: near-daily doctors’ visits that first week, surgery the following week, more appointments and occupational therapy this week and continuing on into the forseeable future. I have some sweet new hardware in my arm which I’m sure will make me plenty of new TSA friends when I fly now.

Screws in broken elbow.

The start of my transition to cyborg?

Recovery is going well so far. I’m in a brace now instead of a splint, which gives me a lot more freedom of movement. I can walk, as long as I’m on a stable (paved) surface to reduce my risk of falling. I can now, finally, type with 2 hands. I read like a fiend because that’s about all I can do for fun that doesn’t involve the use of 2 hands and/or my right (dominant) hand.

 

 

 

 

Picture of broken elbow in a brace.

Call me RoboProf.

But lots of things are hard. I can’t do much with my right hand/arm, so everything takes me at least twice as long. Showering. Getting dressed. Cooking. Writing by hand. And I get tired really easily — 2 hours of grocery shopping and errands this past weekend left me exhausted. Sleeping is tricky — I wear my brace at night but still have to pad it with pillows to keep it in an acceptable position. I ask for help, a lot. (The other day, I had to ask the cashier at the bagel shop to open my bag of chips for me. Ugh.)

If all goes well, I should be able to start back at some activities in a month, and by the 6 week post-surgery mark I should be able to run, swim, and bike, according to my doctor. Taekwondo is the big question mark right now — I have no idea what the timeline is for that, and that makes me really sad and anxious. I do know that it will be about 3 months before I can put full weight on my elbow again — before I’m totally “back to my self” again.

My last injury cycle taught me patience and acceptance: acceptance of my limits, patience with the slow and steady pace of recovery, acceptance of listening to my body and following its lead. I’ve been trying to keep all of that in mind this time around. Doing what I can, listening to my body, diligently following my therapy regimen. But it’s hard. I’m impatient with the limits of my body. I don’t want to accept another layoff from running/swimming/biking/kayaking/taekwondo, from all the things that keep me sane and bring me joy. I try my best to keep my sense of humor about the situation, but sometimes, in my quieter moments, the anger and frustration bubble up.

While training for and racing my triathlon, I adopted the mantra “Stay positive, stay steady.” It reminded me to stay in the moment, to keep moving forward, and to remember that every state is temporary and that the sucky moments don’t last forever. Perhaps it’s time I brought that mantra out of retirement — it seems fitting for the situation I’m in right now.

Stay positive. Stay steady. Keep moving forward.

 

An academic summer, part 2: fun

In the first post in this series of what my academic summer looks like, I talked about the research aspects of my summer. In today’s post, I’ll talk about some of what I’m doing for fun this summer.

Races and coming back from injury

You may recall that last summer I injured myself while training for a marathon (after running a marathon and then spending a week walking around Disney World). What I thought was a really stubborn case of plantar fasciitis turned out to be a partially (50%) torn plantar fascia. Which required a PRP injection and almost 3 weeks in a boot, plus more physical therapy and a slooooooow return to running.

Because I know myself, and because I am goal-oriented, I decided that I should have something to train for as I recovered. Something that would keep me motivated to push myself. Something, perhaps, out of my comfort zone.

Why not a sprint triathlon, I thought?

I started training in March. (For those unfamiliar: sprint = half mile swim, 15-20 mile bike, 3-4 mile run, typically.) My goal race was June 16, and I also planned to do an indoor triathlon (10 minute swim, 30 minutes on the spin bike, 20 minute treadmill run) just for fun and for training.

Well. The indoor triathlon (INDOOR TRIATHLON!!) was canceled due to SNOW. And the June 16 race was canceled due to thunderstorms — after the first 5 waves were in the water. (Luckily I was in a later wave and had not started yet. One of the advantages of being a woman of a certain age, I guess!) But the third time was indeed the charm, and last Sunday I finally completed my first sprint triathlon.

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Waiting for my wave to start, with part of my cheer squad.

While the race itself was fun (except for the panic attack I suffered in the water — eek! This coming from a former lifeguard and swim instructor. Luckily I was able to summon enough mental strength to talk myself through the swim and not give up, like I really wanted to at that moment), and while I’m glad I had the experience, I didn’t like it enough to make it a regular thing. So I’m pretty sure I’m one and done with triathlons. Still, it’s something I’ve always wanted to try (tri? ha ha ha), and now I can say I’ve done it. One more thing off the bucket list!

I did find that I really enjoyed the mix of sports that triathlon training required. I’m a more confident and stronger cyclist, and even a stronger swimmer. And my running is improving as a result of all the cross-training, too. So my plan is to continue mixing up my workouts with swims, runs, and bike rides. I want to start trail running again. I want to do some mountain biking (something I was afraid to do while training, in case I injured myself). I want to throw some kayaking in there, too. Basically I just want to play outdoors!

As far as getting back into more serious running? I think I’m at least a year out from training for another marathon, but I’m thinking maybe a 10K is on my near-ish horizon….

Friday funday

Maybe 4 or 5 years ago, I realized that working 5 days a week in the summer was (a) not necessary and (b) not allowing me to recover sufficiently from the academic year. So I started taking Fridays off, or at least mostly off (maybe just working for an hour or two in the morning). Some summers, I kept my kids home most of those Fridays, so that we could have adventures together, or just hang out at the pool or beach. This summer, it was easier to put my son in the school district’s summer program 5 days a week (and the predictability of the schedule is better for his ADHD), and my daughter is mostly home but mostly doing her own thing. So I have my June and July Fridays, with just a couple of exceptions, free to do whatever I want! I’m looking forward to spending my Fridays exploring the area on my bike or kayak, working on crafting projects, and (when my daughter allows it, ha ha) hanging out with my daughter, before she heads off to middle school in the fall.

To be honest, though, so far my Fridays have consisted mostly of running errands. Boo. Time for that to change!

Taking time off

In addition to taking most Fridays off, I take a longer break in August. August is usually when we vacation as a family, and when we do I take a tech break. No email, no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and no TV. Just time together as family, in nature. I look forward to this tech break so much every year!

We also give the kids a break from summer camps and programs in August — they are home during the day with me. Both kids are now old enough to entertain themselves, which allows me to get a few hours of work in each day and still leaves plenty of time for hanging out and having adventures together.

I may even attempt to take the kiddos camping by myself this year, something I’ve never done but have wanted to try. We’ll camp a few times this summer as a family, and camping is usually the focus of our vacation, but I think camping on my own with the kids would be a fun challenge for all of us!


As a junior faculty member, I was reluctant to prioritize non-work pursuits in the summer. As a senior faculty member, I recognize that taking time off and taking the foot off the accelerator is necessary for my productivity and my mental well-being. For me, taking time off needs to include active pursuits, preferably in nature, and spending as much time as possible outdoors. In that respect, my summer is off to a pretty good start, and I look forward to continuing that positive trend!

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit about my work centering around allyship and mentoring, and my reflections on how I can be more effective at each.

An academic summer, part 1: Research

June is here. Spring term is (finally, mercifully) over. And, if the questions I’m getting are any indication, the thoughts of the friends, neighbors, and acquaintances of faculty turn to one thing:

“So, do you have the summer off?”

I’ve been getting so many variations of this question lately that I decided I should write a post, describing what this academic is doing this summer. (Hint: It definitely does NOT involve having the summer off!) But as I thought about what I wanted to include in such a post, I realized that I had a potentially rather long post on my hands.

So, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting what my academic summer, this year, looks like. In this post, I’ll tackle what I and my students are doing research-wise. In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about what I’m doing for fun, rethinking how I perform mentoring and allyship, curricular projects, and, finally, what I’m specifically choosing not to do this summer.

Research

Faithful readers of this blog may recall that my current project, Self-Healing Home Computer Networks, has two pieces to it: part mathematical, part social science.

The social science piece: where are the participants? and a new experiment

My main focus this summer is on the social science part of the project. The goal of this piece of the project is to deduce the language/terminology and troubleshooting strategies that non-technical people use when reasoning about, identifying problems with, and attempting to fix the computer networks within their homes. I’m working with two undergraduates, both brand new to research, on this project.

My original plan was to conduct more interviews (possibly with my students’ help), and to work with my students to code and analyze this data, so that we could start framing out a larger survey to conduct later this year or early next year with a larger participant base. We’ve been doing the latter — my students are learning how to work with qualitative data, and have been instrumental in drilling down deeper into a few of the sub-themes we observed on a first cursory pass through the transcripts.

However, the former is proving to be more challenging than I anticipated — I am struggling to recruit participants! I’ve done mostly offline and email blast friends and neighbors recruiting, and some flyering, with little success. I’m trying to revamp my recruiting protocol and seeing what’s possible in terms of online recruiting. While this is frustrating, it’s actually been a good learning experience for me and my students, showcasing the difficulty of conducting qualitative research.

(Shameless plug: if you are reading this and happen to either be in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, or know someone who is, and either would like to participate or knows someone who might like to participate, please contact me! I appreciate any help or leads I can get!)

My students started working with me during spring term, reading the relevant background literature and learning how to do qualitative research. Toward the end of spring term, we kicked around the idea of conducting a related experiment, simultaneously with the interview study: a card sort, using the terminology we’ve collected so far in the interviews. This has become the students’ main focus this summer. The students came up with other sources from which to extract potential terminology, and we have the framework of the experiment set up. We’re now refining the experiment as well as our IRB protocol, and trying to figure out our potential subject pool. Hopefully we’ll get to launch our experiment in a couple of weeks!

The mathematical piece: Where does this fit?

After the resounding and unfairly mean rejection of my workshop paper, I largely put that part of the project aside, partly to cool my anger and partly to concentrate on the other half of the project. My ego has (mostly) recovered, and so I’m spending some of my research brain cycles figuring out where to send this work out next.

I’ve framed this paper as a quality of experience management paper, with little success. So I am now trying to figure out how to reframe it. My instincts tell me that IoT (Internet of Things) management might be a better fit, so that’s where I’m concentrating my energies right now. I’m less familiar with the IoT conference/workshop space, and IoT is a pretty broad subfield, so identifying appropriate venues has proved challenging thus far. I think I need to figure out who in my professional network is working in the IoT space, and pick their brains for advice.

Mentoring students

Today I realized that I have not worked with students over the summer since the summer of 2014! For me, that’s an extraordinarily long hiatus. I worried that my research mentoring skills would be a bit rusty. Luckily, the two students that I hired make my job easy-peasy. They may be brand new to research, but they are SHARP and pick things up quickly. I’m actually having trouble keeping up with the pace they’re setting! They are eager to learn, and keep asking me what they should be reading. They have great ideas and keen insights.

As expected, they are not quite yet completely comfortable with failure or the uncertainty involved in doing academic research, but we’ve had some good conversations already about how to live with that discomfort.

One logistical piece I worried about before the start of the summer: my students’ lab is in a building all the way across campus from my office. Granted, my campus is small, and “all the way across campus” = a 10 minute walk. Still, it poses a challenge. In previous summers, my office was down the hall from the lab. Students could run down the hall to ask questions, and I could run down to the lab to help them troubleshoot/debug a problem, sketch out a design, etc. How do you replicate this kind of atmosphere with the physical distance? The solution we’ve found, which is working so far: longer lab meetings (usually an hour) mid-morning, and Slack for questions/discussions between meetings. While this hasn’t happened yet, if a question/discussion indicates that this would be better hashed out face-to-face, I’ll either run over to the lab or have the students come to my office.


We’re only in Week 2 of the summer, but I’m already excited about the direction my research is taking. I know that the work my students and I do this summer will set up a strong foundation for me (and maybe them and other students) to continue during the academic year — and that excites me, too.

Dealing with a professional slump

"Fail" stampIf academic years had themes, then the theme for this academic year would be The Year of Failure.

Coming off of sabbatical, my plan for the year was get things out of the pipeline and into submission. I am working on three different projects currently: two research, and one curricular. The research projects I described last year in this post. The curricular project is a major undertaking related to continuing civic engagement projects beyond the lifetime of courses that I’m hoping to pilot next academic year. One of the research projects and the curricular project reached the point where it made sense to send them out into the world for review. So that’s what I did. The curricular project went out for review first for a fellowship, and then for a regional grant. I submitted the research project to a workshop where I thought it had decent odds for acceptance.

Everything has been summarily rejected. And in the case of the workshop paper, unnecessarily meanly rejected.

Rejection is hard. I have a fairly thick skin when it comes to criticism about my work. But the timing of these rejections, one after the other, and the spirit of the rejections (the mean reviews, not even making the waitlist for the fellowship), has hit me hard. Additionally, the curricular project is something that I feel very strongly about and invested in personally, that fills a definite need and hole, so the fact that I can’t convince funders of this fact is extra frustrating to me.

I half-jokingly asked my friends, “are ALL of my ideas REALLY that bad?” But that pretty much described my mental state late last week, when the workshop paper rejection came in. Usually, if something in one area of my professional life is not going well, I can fall back on a different project that is going better. It’s difficult to deal with the situation where everything is failing, all at once.

I’ve been through professional slumps many times before, so I know that these things are cyclical. I know this means I have not yet found the right way to tell the story of my work to outside critics, that I have not made them care about the importance of solving these problems, or the validity of my proposed solutions. I know that eventually, I will figure out a way to frame these stories in more compelling ways. And I know that negative feedback makes my work stronger. Usually. (But still, there is no reason to make hurtful comments in a review. You can disagree with someone’s premise or approach or results and do so politely and kindly, without name-calling and insults.)

I also have the privilege of tenure, and of being a full professor. If I go through a publishing slump that lasts a few years, nothing bad is going to happen to me. If this curricular project doesn’t get funded, I likely have the professional capital to identify resources at my institution to help me launch the project anyway.

And yet. Part of me still feels, maybe not panicked, but something close. Because there is a schedule that I think I should be publishing on, and I’ve fallen behind that pace. And part of me feels impatient, because I am so excited about these projects that I want to shout my results and plans from the rooftops. I want to share these things with others, now now now! (Patience is not my strong suit. Can you tell?)

So, after a weekend of wallowing in self-pity, I’m returning to action. I’m going to sit on the workshop paper for a few weeks until I figure out what my next move is. In the meantime, after submitting the workshop paper I went back to research project #2 and am making steady progress there, so I will try to move that closer to publication. And today, a day completely free of meetings and classes where I get to work at home, I will spend strategically planning out the steps for the curricular project, to move it forward sans funding.

(And maybe I’ll update my CV of Failures, too.)

Residential colleges and the politics of snow days

Snowy backyard view

My view as I’m writing this post. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but the snow is still coming down heavily.

As is wont to happen occasionally at this time of year, we are currently in the midst of a pretty significant snowstorm. As I’m writing this, my city’s blanketed under 9+ inches of snow, while the city where I work, a half hour south of where I live, has over a foot of snow. All of which has fallen since about 7am.

Smartly, last night the city where I work called a snow day. Forecasts were calling for a foot of snow, and kids are bussed in from the outlying rural areas, so calling school off was a no-brainer. The city where I live had a scheduled no-school day today anyway, but called a snow day last night (calling off the no-school day programs and all after-school and evening activities) because of the weather forecast. Better to be safe than put kids and parents and staff in peril.

road conditions map

Road conditions right before I left campus this afternoon to head home. Light purple = bad news. Plus, by the time I hit the road, there were more purple “!” diamonds indicating accidents and spin-outs.

My institution is a residential campus. The president of the college lives,
literally, next door to my building. Conventional wisdom is that faculty and staff live within walking distance to campus. The majority of students live on campus, and those that don’t live nearby.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Oh sure, I received an email this morning around 7am indicating that “it’s up to faculty members as to whether they want to cancel class”. And letting me know that hey, there’s a way I can conduct class remotely! But, uh, I probably should have tested it out first, and oh yeah, we don’t have enough licenses to support the number of students in my class.

But the culture is that we’re here for our students, always and no matter what. And 10 weeks is an awfully short time anyway, so can we really afford to cancel class? Oh, and faculty really shouldn’t miss too many classes during the term. Well, I’m headed home for a funeral later this week, I’ll be at a conference for almost a week in February, and I’m missing another class day in March due to travel, so that’s 4 class days already I’m missing.

Snow on car

This is what greeted me when I left my office. This much snow fell in just over 4 hours.

So yeah, I drove down to campus this morning, and drove back pretty much right after my class this afternoon. Against my better judgment.

It took me about 45 minutes to drive to school this morning and just under an hour and a half to get home. It usually takes me 25 minutes door to door.

This afternoon, it was White Knuckle Driving the entire way. Zero visibility. Heavy falling snow. Roads that clearly had been plowed at some point, but where the snow drifted back over the road. At times, I wasn’t even sure I was on the road anymore. There was what looked like a really big accident on an interstate off-ramp near my house. A tow truck in the ditch somewhere else. And once I reached my neighborhood, streets that haven’t yet been plowed at all.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Whiteout conditions

Where’s the road?

While faculty received some, um, “guidance” on alternatives to holding class, it’s not clear what, if any, guidance staff were given. How many, and which, staff members were told it was ok to not come in? I imagine that the “don’t cancel class” culture that exists for faculty has a counterpart for staff, so I can imagine that the unstated pressure to come in exists on the staff side too. And I imagine that some staff, perhaps hourly staff, may not have had a choice. Or, if a choice exists, it entails burning a sick day or a vacation day, or not getting paid at all. And if you need, or want, to keep those for other reasons, or rely on that paycheck because your financial situation is precarious, maybe that choice is not a choice at all.

And let’s talk about child care. Many school districts were closed today. Are we supposed to bring our kids to campus in this storm? Isn’t that unsafe? And again, what about staff that can’t bring kids in to work (as I heard today) and don’t have an alternative? I have a spouse that could stay home, but I doubt my situation is the norm. Aren’t we putting faculty and staff, again, in a precarious position?

Feet in deep snow.

Glad I chose not to wear my usual teaching outfit of a dress and tights today, so that I could wade through the 12+ inches of snow surrounding my car.

Oh, and the conventional wisdom that faculty and staff live within walking distance of campus? Plenty of faculty and staff do not. We choose not to for many reasons. And even faculty and staff who technically do live within walking distance may choose not to walk in, or perhaps can’t because of physical limitations or other reasons. The city where I work closed down this afternoon. They halted mail delivery and all non-essential operations. Road and sidewalk conditions were plenty precarious in town. My guest speakers for today’s class had difficulties going 2 blocks from their previous meeting to the building where my class is held. So proximity to campus, for our students, staff, and faculty, also in this case does not provide any additional safety.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Today’s decision by my institution to remain open during a significant storm was foolish and dangerous. It reflects a view of college personnel’s life circumstances (local, child care at the ready, a degree of financial security) that is outdated and out of touch. And providing choices that for many are false choices, is not really a choice at all. I would love to see us rethink such decisions in the future, and be a bit wiser about faculty, staff, and student safety.

Grateful

It’s the day before the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, and like most people today I’m pretending to work.

Whoops! I meant to say: I’m thinking about all the things I’m grateful for.

I could use this post to talk about all the obvious things I’m grateful for: wonderful friends, supportive colleagues, loving family, etc. But I thought it might be fun to write a post about some less-obvious things on my gratitude list.

So, here, a random list of three less-obvious things for which I am grateful:

  1. Meditation. I mentioned in my last post that I started meditating this summer, and how much it has changed my life, both work-wise and in my personal life. I never imagined that I was the meditating “type”, but now my day does not feel complete until and unless I meditate. 10 minutes each morning is enough to center me for the day, and I honestly think it makes me a better version of myself.
  2. Slack. Slack is a team communication platform. (Kind of like instant messaging on steroids, for those of you old enough to remember IM.) Our students have been using Slack for a bit, but I didn’t really use it until I went on sabbatical. Then, I used it as a way to keep in touch with my superhero lady gang/support group/close friends. This year, I’m using it extensively to keep up with my Comps groups. We’re also using it as a department to replace our normal “hallway conversations”, as a way to keep those of us with offices outside the building and everyone on leave in the loop. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when your office is literally all the way across campus from your colleagues, but Slack has pretty much eliminated that for me. (It’s also changed how we communicate as a department, but I’ll save that for another post.)
  3. Online communities. Some people find it weird to consider people you’ve never met in person as friends. To me, it seems like the most natural thing in the world, thanks to the online communities in which I take part. A group of amazing and powerful women and I trained virtually together for marathons in Fall 2016, and most of us still keep in touch. Turns out, we have much more in common than our love for running crazy long distances, and I’ve found these women to be invaluable sources of inspiration, non-judgmental listeners, and providers of well-timed comic relief. Dealing with my layoff from running has been easier thanks to the injured runners Facebook group I joined — the group provides a safe space to vent and whine and share those small victories and setbacks that happen when you’re coming back from injury. And this year I ponied up for an individual membership to NCFDD, which gives me access to faculty development resources and, best of all, a community of faculty who support and hold each other accountable for writing and generally making forward progress in research.

To all of you celebrating this weekend, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and hope you take some time to focus on the less-obvious things that make you grateful, too.