Thinking Through When to Say Yes and When To Say No

8 August 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

I read with interest this piece in the Chronicle about women needing to say no. (damn thing is behind the paywall: sorry about that. But email me and I can get you a copy)

It’s problematic on many levels (particularly the gendered notion that happy and no are equated and some other things, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that at the moment), but what made me pause and actually asked a question about it on twitter was that it started (in a sentence) to explicate the idea of trade offs.

Trade offs. Pros and cons. Discernment (thanks Marvelous_M). Costs and benefits. Risk and Reward. Return on investment of time and energy. Yes and No.

We hear a lot about trying to protect our time or to use our time wisely. Women, especially, hear a lot about learning how to say no, especially considering there is research that points to the fact women do more service and spend more time on other things outside of research (not that research is the end all be all of our jobs)(citations here).

So the question becomes then how to make decisions about where to spend our time. How do you decide if an opportunity is one that will bring the reward you want it to bring at whatever particular time you are in your career? In a less clunky sentence, how do women in academia make decisions based on their lives?

And this issue of how to decide when to say no and when to say yes and what it all means directly intersects with conversations about the “busy badge” (which has to stop and a post will be posted on that shortly) and having and enjoying life outside of our jobs.

I’ve always been concerned with the how. Why? Is often times an easier question to answer, but the How? Now that’s a tricky question. The most pressing reason it’s tricky is that how you approach decision-making varies tremendously based on where you are in your career and more importantly, on what you want out of your career. Not to mention, your own personality. For example, I’m old and tenured and have a very good idea of who I am as a scholar, academic, and a person. I didn’t know that when I was in grad school. It’s even different for two associates at similar institutions based on their career goals. The point is it’s all variable. Well, that’s no surprise, is it?!

So then how do you go about working toward the how of the decision making process? I hesitate to call it anything specific like a heuristic or checklist or what have you. But we have to start somewhere. Let’s just think of it as types of decisions.

Passion Decisions

We all have them. They are teaching or service or community based or research projects that will linger. But these projects no matter what are the things that inspire us, that spark our passion, and consistently remind us why we love this job. They aren’t something that you’re specifically counting on to move your career forward. You just do them for the pure pleasure of the personal satisfaction that you receive.

No matter the voice in your own head or that of the trusted colleague or that of the respected mentor, you always find yourself saying yes.

And it’s ok. It is.

But (and you knew it was coming), depending on your circumstance, it’s likely that you should only do one of these at a time, and you have to ensure that you’re making a realistic work plan so you can do the passion project while also doing those other things you need to do.

Believe it or not, #womeninTC is my passion project. I accepted the invitation to become part of the steering committee because I had been doing lots of mentoring sort of work at my institution and in the field, and I loved the idea that we could make issues important to women (and even men) more visible. It’s grown into something remarkable (if I may be so bold to say it out loud) and I’m honored to be a part of it. (and right now, I’m figuring out where it goes in my big decision making matrix as I look forward with my own life!)

Strategic decisions.

These are the ones that you make deliberately and specifically because of the value they bring to what you want out of your career. This is the most nebulous part of the formula because here it really, really, really matters what YOU NEED to succeed in your career. Think of these as tenure or promotion decisions.

And no, you do not have to say yes to every one of them. Just like you don’t have to say no to every one of them. The key is making strategic decisions.

This could mean that you take on doing an innovative teaching project like team teaching or piloting a new technology in the classroom. This could mean merging teaching and service through a unique service learning project that directly relates to your class and brings visibility to your program. This could mean accepting an opportunity that provides you data for an article-length manuscript. This could mean, well, so many things.

Collegial decisions.

Sometimes we need to make decisions because it’s the right thing to do. Right in this usage means that by making this decision we make our immediate colleagues happier, which can end making us happier (cause who doesn’t want to work with happy people!).

One area where we are always told to say “no” is in doing too much service. Sitting on that extra committee is the prime example of this type of decision. Here’s an example. I sit on a university level committee about technology. I am not at all interested in this committee and it is a bane of my existence. It meets every other week at 8:00am (and those of you who really know me recognize the humor in the 8:00am). It rarely makes any decisions. It is the epitome of sub-committee hell. I could drone on about it so I’ll get to the point. Because my program must have technology in our labs (think Adobe Creative Suite) I sit on this committee to know what’s going on and to be prepared to act and/or intervene about decisions that may effect my program. This makes my colleagues happy and it alleviates some of our collective stress on how to maintain our labs.

Now this is kind of a mundane example, but I’m hopeful you can see the idea I’m talking about.

Student-centered decisions.

These decisions come in two shapes and sizes. Those that directly effect students and those that indirectly effect students.

Directly effecting students is something like agreeing to take on extra advisees because there was a surge in enrollment no one expected and someone needs to talk to them the first two weeks of class and there’s no way anyone can step in on short notice. Indirectly directly students is something like the college level curricula committee that you sit on so you can keep on eye on any decisions that may effect your program.

In any case, many of us are faced with these sorts of student decisions and you need to consider (again) what the trade offs are.

Final thoughts

These aren’t the only categories, but when I was thinking through this post and talking to folks about these issues, ideas and concepts seemed to coalesce around these four categories. Absolutely, let us know if you have others.

I cannot stress enough that anytime you’re faced with making a decision you need to make it while thinking through what it is you want and need from the job and how those wants and needs align to those official documents that institutional direct our jobs.

The next post will address some of the common reasons that we feel we cannot say no-even when we want to. It’s important to talk about these issues and discuss some of the underlying issues that seem to make us—and women in particular—hesitate to say no.

As we’re all starting to gear up for the fall term when lots of new opportunities may present themselves, I encourage you to make decisions by thinking through the trade offs and what you really, really want and need.

The next post will follow-up on this one and will try to work through why it’s hard for us to say no and why we feel we have to say yes.









Making Hard Decisions

originally posted 16 July 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

#WomeninTC will proudly be accepting the Diana award from SIGDOC tomorrow and giving a keynote in the morning. If you’re there, be certain to attend and if you’re not, be on the lookout for the proceedings paper.

But, that’s not really why I’m writing today. I’m writing to talk about making hard decisions. Did I plan on being with my friends, colleagues, and fellow members of the steering committee tomorrow? Yes. But, I’m writing this from home in Northern Kentucky USA after making the hard decision that it wasn’t in my best interest at this moment in time to make the trip. Why was it a hard decision? Because not only was I supposed to part of the presentation tomorrow morning, I am also President of CPTSC  and I missed helped facilitating the round table we hosted between SIGDOC and ProComm (the annual conference for IEEE PCS).

So I had responsibilities. But, I just couldn’t do it. Everyone will face this decision at some point in their career, most likely more than one point in their career. It’s life and life changes, and as you know, conferences are planned months and years in advance. (Organizers understand this. So be professional and courteous when you back out. A long detailed rationale as to why is not necessary.)

But, right at this minute, reading tweets from the conference, I feel a little but like a failure for shirking those responsibilities. Well, that’s what the irrational part of my brain is saying. The other part of my brain has to acknowledge that—for all sorts of reasons—there was just no way this conference trip could happen. Thus, a decision had to be made. It was hard. I will continue to have doubts about it. I will likely try to find ways to “make up” for missing it in other ways. All of these things are human nature. It was, however, the right decision for me.

In making hard decisions, we acknowledge that there is a hierarchy in our life and in that hierarchy, you simply can’t do everything and be everywhere—even if you had committed to going. That hierarchy I would argue means putting you first. The “you” I refer to here is the material, embodied person with feelings and frailties and other aspects to your life.

I know that graduate students and young faculty members (and heck, even some of us oldsters, too! ) you feel that you have to go to everything. I am here to say that you don’t. You can be selective and strategic about choosing the conferences or workshops or symposia that you attend. Those decisions should be made based on who you feel your community is (who does your research speak to) and what type of conferences, etc., are recognized and valued by your institution (for tenure, promotion, and merit decisions) and those two factors need to be balanced against what else is going on in your life at the moment and your own mental and physical health.

We don’t talk enough about taking care of ourselves and finding the seemingly elusive work/life balance. That’s one of the things that #womeninTC is all about: Talking out loud about how to do our jobs, enjoy those jobs, and still have and enjoy a life outside of jobs; Talking out loud about our mental, emotional, and physical health and how our jobs affect/effect those things; talking about the struggles and successes and the hard decisions that often have to be made.

Know that when the moment comes to make the hard decision, you’re certainly not the first and you’re definitely not alone.

So for those of you in Ireland, be certain to have a pint for me!






Teaching and all the Feels

originally posted (well sometime in June 2015) by Lisa Meloncon

So I was lucky enough to meet Aimée Morrison a couple of years ago at Carolyn Miller’s Emerging Genre conference . I “knew” her from Twitter and the hookandeye collaborative , but getting to talk with her in person was a great experience. She has this passion and energy and knowledge that is impressive and inspiring.

Recently, Aimée wrote a blog post, ‘Teaching and all the feels,” that I sent out with our #womeninTC hashtag because the issues that Aimée brings up, we’ve talked around on twitter, at our organized events, and in one-on-one conversations. She asked me what I thought, and I realized I had quite a few thoughts about it.

What struck my about it was three things.

First, these sorts of feelings aren’t valued so we don’t talk about them. Which is not good. I realize that often teaching labor is feminized and as such, helps to perpetuate the myth that teaching isn’t as valuable as research (and at some institutions, not as valuable as service). So that means talking about our feelings helps to further gender and theoretically, marginalize teaching. While many of us would call bullsh*t on that stance, it’s a fact—truly a fact—that cannot be denied (go ahead, do a simple google scholar search and see for yourself!). But what’s important here for our work is the acknowledgement that this is something we need to prepared to deal with institutionally and professionally, while we still look toward being the best teachers that we can be. Sounds a little pie in the sky? Well, maybe, but the bottom line is that Aimée’s experiences are similar to many of us, and the sad fact is that we aren’t encouraged to talk about it, and we need to be talking about the embodied and emotional experiences that teaching can be.

Second, we need to acknowledge the labor that is involved with teaching, and the many facets of that labor, including the emotional aspects at that labor. Teaching is more than the time in the classroom, and it involves emotional labor that needs to be acknowledged more directly so that we can attend to how that labor effects/affects us. Courses with difficult subject matter can drain the emotional and mental life out of you every week. Block courses taught once a week can drain the mental and physical life out of you every week. Talking with students and attending to their lives as it relates to their education can drain you mentally, emotionally, physically. (I was never prepared or trained for the moment a young man came out to me and asked my help in writing a “rhetorically sound” letter to his parents.)

Third, I so appreciated the honesty in the reflection of her teaching evolution. It’s no secret that we need to work on better preparing and then offering ongoing training to grad students and early career faculty on teaching and how to do it better. Some of us are natural presenters so teaching is a little easier. For many of us, though, teaching is hard work just to do work of teaching, not to mention the preparation of it. It’s essential to reflect and find your groove and to know that it may be necessary to move OUTSIDE of your comfort zone to find the place where you feel you can teach so that it enables students to learn.

The bravest thing I ever did in the classroom as a teacher was to just let everything go. I gave up control and requirements and even grading (in the traditional sense). But I’m definitely to a place where I feel I can manage what Aimee calls the “sheer importance of the work” as it relates to the “all the feels.” I know I’m lucky though. I’ve just now figured out how to articulate it, which is important considering the many times and ways we are asked to describe (and defend) what we do. The articulation part is just as important as the doing part because it helps our own stance, but it also helps in advancing the overall idea of the important of teaching.

I always have to smile when I hear the arguments about why aren’t all students just taking online courses (or why the MOOC didn’t change the world the way some thought). For me, the biggest reason why we still have students in our classes, and probably always will, is that students crave personal attention. Students want to be in a class with an engaged and dedicated teacher who is experiencing “all the feels.” And sometimes that experience can only be truly had in a face-to-face classroom. (Please don’t start bashing me about the fact you can build a community online. I get that, but even online advocates—and really I am one—will acknowledge the difference in community in a face-to-face class.)

Cause here’s the thing: without that feeling, without engaging in the work of engaging with our students, you’re not teaching. You’re simply a conduit for a information delivery, and education is a whole lot more than that.

So as you’re working on planning your courses for the fall or thinking through pedagogy and teaching statements, it’s ok to feel a lot of stuff when you’re teaching and planning. And it’s ok if you want to talk about it. Just reach out and let’s experience all the feels together.