Mentoring

I am rounding out my two months of Spring Undergrad Advising for the department and thinking about how I help my students. I’ll place these thoughts in bullet form.

  • I want to help them find out how they are doing with the course of their studies
  • I enjoy giving them good advice
  • I offer them advice about their course choices
  • I inform them of any resources we have on campus that they might find useful
  • And, the most important thing–is that I listen

I do prefer to advise face to face; however, more of my advising and mentoring is taking place online via email and on different platforms. For students enrolled where I teach, I can do some of the fact finding via email, but there are moments when a face to face is needed and I point this out and then it is up to them. The photo below is of turtles sunning at Cedar Hill Golf Course trail.

 

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The Way You Work

Academic work requires so much solitary work and this makes it flexible and at times impossible. Work always beckons and the to do list can become burdensome. We are at the start of Summer, and it is the perfect time to think about how you can re-focus on the way you work. What works for you?
Right about now academics are thinking about the long list of things to accomplish during the Summer. Honestly, though, how do you work?

I find that I need some white noise when I am doing certain tasks and other tasks requires quiet or music at a low volume. At the day’s end when I am completely alone this is the time that I listen to music set high. I like to chunk out as many tasks as I can during these evenings alone at work. My job requires lots of meetings and this means that two times per week, I need to work later days to catch up from meetings.

I have blogged previously about the importance of having good work and life balance and boundaries. I know that this is extremely important, but the reality of work is that some months are more busy than others. I am working through a busy period as we transition from one Learning Management System to a newer, better version and this is keeping me extremely busy. I am also trying to think about the way I work and what keeps me organized and able to get things done. I love coffee and the entire process of making and savoring it. This ritual is part of my morning and reading the papers. I also realize that the caffeine is necessary some days.

I need desk time to plan and think. I use early mornings for this and evenings. I occasionally walk around the building or across campus and use this as desk or thinking time. I will talk into my phone and dictate notes from a meeting or send myself emails to update. I also use this time to clear my head and plan for the next meeting, task, or day. I need some alone time to organize my day. The photo below is pulled from Twitter and is a perfect. Work and life balance can at times feel Game of Thrones-ish!

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Sustaining You

Who makes you feel safe? Friends and others who know you are safe or some might say: home. When I think of people I trust and respect, this networks of friends, family, and inner circle at work are supportive, good listeners, and are honest with their advice. I do not want a nodding head and mere agreement. I want someone to listen and then comment–especially if we disagree or if the friend has something to add. Again, a big part of this is listening. Try to stay away from emotional vampires who just take, take, and take. These people are exhausting to engage with on an ongoing basis. I find that I am controlling my time more and putting more distance with the emo vamps, as those conversations are usually not two-way conversations.

Affirm the good relationships and spend time with the people who add to your day. Remind your network that they are important collaborators, friends, and people in your life. These people challenge you to be a better person and they deserve reminders that they are important. This makes me think of places where I feel at home or safe. I’m thinking of the places or things that add to my day. The smell of coffee definitely makes me smile, and then the taste, well. I love coffee. 

When I think of where I feel safe or comfortable, I often think of the classroom. As a natural extrovert, teaching feels like home. I am not referring to talking at my students, but rather leading, facilitating, and listening to them. I want the classroom to embody a place where we can discuss, challenge, disagree, and grow. Do not assume that I mean that I expect the classroom to not be a place of contentious conversation–it is. But, when I walk into a classroom to teach or to give a presentation, I feel like I am at home or in a good place that I am comfortable.

What caused this stream of thought? This quote from George Eliot, “Oh, the comfort. The inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person. Having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words. But pouring them all out. Just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”  Keep and nurture. Blow the rest away.

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Mentoring Graduate Students

I am assessing the last year and thinking about my mentoring of my Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs). While I need them to grade and facilitate the tutorials, the other thing that I want them to do is learn. I am a firm believer in giving them ample opportunity to learn and lead. And, a major part of this is trying to get them used to project management and working with people. Another key thing is to help them have better work life balance. It is easy to get caught up in the “flexibility” of our academic jobs and to work all of the darn time.

One thing that I set up with my TAs is that any email sent on Friday at 5pm through Sunday is considered a Monday morning email. They are not on call to me and I want to have productive boundaries with them. I also set up with them the guidelines for responding to emails from me Monday through Friday and from my students. I think it is important to offer clear guidelines for working with me.

It was hard to let go and give more freedom for how they lead tutorials, but somehow this is easier for me. I have to trust them and that they will learn what works for the group of students in the tutorial. The art of letting go is important to offering the TAs a chance to get comfortable leading discussions and learning how to work with a supervisor. What have I learned? Some of my TAs are dedicated and others have different skill sets that will serve them well elsewhere.

My most successful TAs and RAs are the ones who take direction well, are organized, and think ahead about the course material or the project. These graduate students are generally more receptive to feedback and have a willingness to learn and do more. These particular graduate students take pride in the work and do not act like the job is funding—they treat the work, like a job. I am thankful for them.

Finish the Term Strong

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!

 

 

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Learning Commons at UVIC

Students will be hard pressed to complain that no one is helpful at UVIC. Between faculty, TAs, the workshops at the Counseling Centre and the Learning Commons they have help at their finger tips. OK. Maybe at their toes, as they will have to walk to these offices. I walked around the library this morning and was really excited with the Learning Commons. So, excited that I made a 90 second video on my iPhone just on the fly. Here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/26lvel7 

And, this does not include the International Commons! Don’t forget that near all of this are the desks for the Help Desk (satellite) and Reference Desk. The Library is the place to be to get help, study, research or grab a latte in the Biblio Cafe. Seriously, get into the Library. This is an old post of mine, but too good to not add to and share that there are even more resources dedicated to student learning. What are you waiting for?

 

Those TPS reports won’t write themselves. 

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2013 The Year of Reflection

I’m reading lots of top ten posts about 2013 and thinking about the last year. The last year was consumed with having to find balance. This was not having some idealistic want for balance, but rather out of necessity. What have I learned in these last 12 months? Well, I’m going to share my top ten thoughts from 2013.

1. Stay Healthy–this includes exercise, sleep, and eating right

2. Say no strategically

3. Work smarter–this meant rethinking my productivity

4. Make time for family and friends

5. Say yes strategically

6. Read, relax, and run

7. Be firm

8. Honesty is important

9. Unwind

10. Happiness is more important than just about everything

The list is in no particular order. I will say this there is nothing like a health emergency to force you to rethink everything. I am forever grateful to the family and friends who were supportive during the last year, as we coped. I am looking forward to 2014. I am sure it will hold lots and I look forward to tackling it with my family by me.

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Make Sure that Your Girls Aren’t Too Ambitious

One of my students shared the Cosmo Special Report in the October 2013 issue. I photo copied the article, read it, and have carried it around for two months. I wanted to blog about it immediately, but alas, grading and other work related responsibilities got in the way of a response. Here I am just weeks before a new year begins and I am finally ready to comment on the nine page article, “The Ambition Gap” by Lorie Gottlieb. The Cole’s Notes version is that single women are more ambitious and successful than their male cohort and consequently are having a hard time finding an equal. It is more complicated than this, but this article speaks to the supposed crisis of heterosexual masculinity (see Michael Atkinson for an informed position), women’s success, and the alleged post-feminist era. Yes, the article assumes that the coupling is between a heterosexual couple.

The first point that I want to make is that we are not in a post-feminist era. We are not in a feminist era. We are in an era that extols the importance of equality, but we wring our hands when we talk about the reality of who is successful, who sits at the table, and who are the high earners. Now, clearly, happiness and ambition are not mutually exclusive. What Gottleib is getting at, though, is that men are “losing their drive” (144). She recounts story after story of the young, single, successful woman who is more successful than their male partners or former partners. Thanks to the success of Liberal feminisms, we see more women working, buying homes, and in managerial positions (Gottleib 145). However, I want to ask: which women? Surely, we need to disaggregate and examine these numbers. Lots of statistics in the US and Canada illustrate that more single headed households are women headed households. We are also quite familiar with the fact that men, on average, make more money than women. And, when we look at upper management, board of directors, and chief executive officers the picture becomes more homogenous–male and white.

On page 147, Gottlieb has a column dedicated to “Watch Out for These Red Flags.” And, what are they?
1. He has no plan 2. He doesn’t communicate 3. He’s envious of your success 4. He takes advantage 5. He’s resistant to change

I am no dating expert; however, I think that these are red flags for most in their 20s and older and not so much about an ambition gap. Gottleib offers a shallow examination, but at the same time does not ask more important questions regarding race, class, sexual orientation, education, and types of career. Women might earn 60% of the undergraduate and graduate degrees (148), but she does not break this down enough for me. Why do I care? My experience as a university professor and one who has continued to look at women, politics, leadership, and higher education, I know that women tend to gravitate to certain fields of study that do not translate into higher earning jobs. We see women over-represented in Education, Humanities, and Social Work and under-represented in Engineering, Sciences, and Computer Sciences. This, then, influences the earning power for women.

What do I like about the article? Well, it was provocative and I read it closely several times. I also appreciated her column about “How You Can Bridge the Gap.” She pulls from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (my thoughts on the Lean In movement).

She offers some points of advice: 1. Prescreen 2. Establish boundaries 3. Accept trade-offs 4. Give him a nudge

This advice is timeless and part of having a healthy partnership for heterosexual or same-sex couples. What do we do? Encourage people to think about what they want and how they want to pursue their dreams. Encourage girls to go into the STEM fields and work on the leaky pipeline for women and work. I am also concerned with this notion that women are too ambitious. There are parts of the article that equate being single with too much work success. This message is problematic.

Welcome to the New Term

I live my life according to the academic year. This means the Fall term, Winter term, then the Summer term are my work cycles. A new term is right around the corner and I am thinking about what I want this term. I am going to refer to a previous post about my want to not glorify busy. Academics love lists. This includes explaining in an exasperated way that we are very busy, and then listing the number of items that we must get to before we go into the sun and sparkle like a Cullen vamp or worse yet, explode like a vamp in True Blood.

I am trying to have better work life balance and hope that I can continue this in the next term. What am I doing? I am taking special care to not check my phone the first thing in the morning, and this is a major coup. I will start with my stretches, coffee, and paper, and then get to the phone (this translates into checking my email accounts and Twitter feed). I do not know about you, but I can go down the social media rabbit hole and suddenly be late for the gym or to take my spawnlette to school. This past Spring, I was better at leaving emails and Twitter for last, and no one complained about email response times, and I bet my Twitter followers gave a sigh of relief to see fewer tweets.

By not glorifying busy, I might post/share that I got something done, but I am done with listing and trying to prove that I am busy. I know that I am and I know that you are also busy. I also am not engaging those conversations where it feels like a colleague online or in real life is glorifying busy. For Petra’s sake, those of us on the tenure track have: great job flexibility, a job, and yes, we have to teach and publish in order to keep our jobs. But, overall, we get paid to think and talk. I am not competing in the Busy Olympics and if you feel that you have to, you might want to re-think that. How do I model this, though? I have to tell myself to not respond so quickly to emails and not email colleagues during the weekend. I am trying to have better boundaries. I explain to my Teaching Assistants that emails over the weekend are meant to be thought of as a Monday morning email. I also schedule emails so that they are sent Monday-Friday during the workday. These smart devices keep us connected, but also do not allow us to have time off without feeling guilty.

The new term is starting and I am not going to feel guilty that my to-do list is long, as I chip away at it. But, my job’s priority is teaching and I promise to not phone that in, as students do not appreciate that. When they come to class, ready to discuss the readings, they want me there ready to teach and facilitate. I am ready. Oh, and I am not a Cylon. I am human and have to remember this…I am not a machine. Well, my daughter says, “How do you know? You could be a sleeper agent.” I am going to assume that I am not a Cylon.

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I took the above photo at the EMP in Seattle, Washington. It was part of a Battlestar Galactica exhibit. So say we all!

Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.

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