Need help in overcoming my inner guilt

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgThere is irony in doing research on women engineering faculty members, and being a woman faculty member in engineering. One side of my brain tells me that the research says women (and men) who self-sacrifice for their students and colleagues burn themselves out, and instead should figure out how to say no more often; the other side of my brain tells me, "You've worked through the last 2 weekends and are tired, but your 4 students and postdoc need work plans from you before you leave for a conference in Europe on Friday, and you have 2 reviews for IJEE due Friday, and you have to read another student's dissertation by Thursday morning, and there will be more edits to do on the annual report, and oh by the way you have 2 paper drafts due really really soon, so you really had better get working on them."

Another irony is that it is sometimes this ADVANCE grant - a grant focused on figuring out ways to help more women be successful at faculty careers in STEM - that is helping to burn me out at the moment. :-(

I'm tired, and I don't want to work.


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Suffer in silence, be strong and don't let the strain show, never show weakness by asking for help, it's all up to you and you shouldn't burden anyone else with the load ...

Those are not positive values from boyhood indoctrination into the values of adulthood [1], and if becoming a successful woman in a "man's world" means poisoning your soul with that shit then it's time to take a can of gasoline to the whole show and start over.

Not that that observation does you any good this week.

There's a limit to what friends can do and it's hard to ask, but FWIW they deserve a chance to say yes -- don't say no for them.

[1] Women have their own traditional throwing-self-on-the-grenade conditioning, and I'm seriously afraid that instead of losing both we're just adding them to each other.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 23 Jun 2009 #permalink

May I suggest you take a little time to go and read Dr. Isis' latest Letters To Our Daughters post. Won't solve your problem but may help you relieve the guilt.

What gets done will get done. Try not to get to the point where you're resentful of the work, get enough sleep, and see people you love. We can't be agents of change if we take on too much.

The work will always be there, we just have to learn to accept that there is always more to do. (and do as I say, not as I do!)

Trying to find a happy medium between shaping change from within the system and rejecting it altogether is not easy. I struggle with this myself, particularly when thinking about the kinds of academic work that are valued within promotion and tenure systems. In recent focus groups with promotion and tenure committee members, they gave the same advice that you're citing - folks, especially women and faculty of color, need to be able to say no to avoid being overworked. But the work they want faculty members to say no to is very particular - don't do too much service (committee work, advising, community service, outreach etc) and don't spend too much time on teaching. This is problematic for someone who wants to shape change in terms of student experiences in STEM AND who wants to get tenure. I know my response doesn't give you much advice, but I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone in grappling with some of these issues.

But the work they want faculty members to say no to is very particular - don't do too much service (committee work, advising, community service, outreach etc) and don't spend too much time on teaching. This is problematic for someone who wants to shape change in terms of student experiences in STEM AND who wants to get tenure.


If classroom teaching and service are what you value most, don't go to a research university. Go to an undergraduate institution You'll still do research (if you don't believe me, then come by my office and I'll show you some truly bad-ass science), but classroom teaching accomplishments will be a far more significant component of tenure and promotion, and more service (both institutional and community) is also expected. (My latest annual evaluation said explicitly that more service outside of the department is expected. I don't know anybody at a research university who's been told to get more involved in committee work.)

If you also want to work with graduate students, comprehensive universities and some primarily undergraduate institutions have Masters programs as well, so you have many of the aspects of an undergraduate institution but also the opportunity to work with graduate students.

But, for God's sake, don't go to a highly-ranked Ph.D.-granting institution and then wonder why they want you to spend so much of your time on research and Ph.D. students rather than service and classroom teaching. It would be like taking a job as an electrician and wondering why they never have you do plumbing.

Now, somebody might say that they want the research university to be more balanced and not just have people focus on research. Um, first, think long and hard before you call for a system where people are asked to really do everything at once. Second, it's perfectly fine for some institutions to really focus on research while others really focus on teaching and still others strike some sort of balance. Elite liberal arts colleges generally expect significant teaching accomplishments but also significant research accomplishments. Comprehensive universities generally have a balance of teaching and research that falls somewhere between a teaching-oriented school and a research university. Community colleges generally don't care about research. Elite research institutions generally don't care about teaching (no matter what they say).

Righteous indignation and dramatic sighs aside for the time being, I'm right with you H.M. in viewing the problems you and Alice are mentioning as problems moving across fields and types of universities. Whether you're in a top research or a top teaching school or at any other higher ed institution, one of the big issues is the disconnect between publicly stated "values" and how those values are valued in in the daily experiences of faculty and staff.

Rant on, Alice and H.M.

I'm about done with unpacking other people's blind and problematic assumptions for them, so I'll just take a cue from the previous post, sigh my sigh of righteous indignation and say, Rant on!

I apologize for my tone in my previous comment. It was unwarranted.

The point I would sincerely like to make, however, is that academia is multi-faceted, yet much of the commentary on academic science is focused on research-intensive institutions. To some degree it makes sense, since most Ph.D.-holders got their degrees from such institutions, so no matter where we teach we all have that experience in common. However, at the same time, that focus is consistent with a culture in much of academic science that tells grad students and postdocs that the true measure of success is whether they get onto the tenure track at a research university, as opposed to some other type of institution. Grad students and postdocs need to know that much of academia does value teaching and service, that those options do exist.

I think it's fine to teach at some other type of institution (so I do). If I get upset that my institution's relative expectations for teaching, research, and service are not what I want, then I need to hit the job market. If I just want to teach, I should apply to community colleges. If I just want to focus on research, then I should apply to research universities.

Unfortunately, the one common theme among just about all institutions, regardless of how they prioritize teaching, research, and service, is that they do not prioritize our time and sanity. Whether they expect us to spend a ton of time on teaching or a ton of time on research of a ton of time on some mix or whatever, they expect a ton of time. That is a problem that transcends institution type.

Hi Alice,

Please take a break. You've earned it, and then some.

The work will be there, and it'll get done when it gets done. Although counter-intuitive to the Little Red Hen voice in your head, you don't have to do it all right now, this minute. Take a breath, take another, and take a break!

Hugs. :)

It sounds like you really really do need a break. I bet it will be tempting to deem the conference in Europe a break, but it probably won't be the same as a real day or two off at home.

But honestly, after I had that initial reaction to your post, I thought why is Alice writing work plans for her students? I wonder if you are doing things you don't need to be doing -- could you delegate more? Or do less on some things? I think sometimes my advisor feels like things will grind to a halt if she isn't there to manage it all (we can be pretty demanding), but when she's away, things hum along just fine. True, that couldn't go on forever. But it sounds like something's gotta give for you -- maybe there are things that don't actually need as much of your attention as you might like/think.