4 February 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

Horizontal side view of a lonely yellow flower growing on dried cracked soil

The topics or inspirations for blog posts are typically something that has come up in conversations with people in the #womeninTC community or that have come up in discussions across higher education. This blog is no different.

One of the greatest benefits of this job is the flexibility it affords., That flexibility plays out in a number of ways such as our day-to-day schedules, topics of research, diversity of classes, and the ability to choose where we put our time. Absolutely, we all have documents that guide our work lives to an extent i.e., workload policies, annual reviews, and reappointment, tenure and promotion guidelines. The ongoing challenge is figuring out how to make the decisions to make that flexibility work in the most beneficial way for you in both career and life.

All this flexibility comes at a cost, however, as we’re challenged to maintain a balance in our life because it’s so easy to use that flexibility to work all the time. I have been a vocal advocate about the need to move away from what I have started to consistently refer to as the cult of overproduction. I have had several tweet threads over the last month or so that laments the pervasive and destructive nature of over work, particularly on graduate students and early career faculty.

  • There is something wrong with a culture that seems to from the early days of graduate school start to program (for lack of a better word) young scholars that the only way to survive is to work all the time.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people don’t get the irony of announcing how terrible the culture is and we should do something at the same moment they announce of yet another all the projects they need to finish.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where for some reasons our early career faculty feel that they can’t pick and choose their own destiny when in fact they can.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where doing good, slow research is overshadowed by doing more work for the sake of (over) production.
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people (especially graduate students) think they need to go to every conference with no rationale for it except they believe it’s an expectation (but it is not).
  • There is something wrong with an institutional culture where people feel no matter how hard they work it still does not feel like enough?

I could go on with so many more examples*, but the point is where have we gone wrong in training and mentorship and professional development? How do we shift the tide away from lore-based decisions or emotion-based decisions that aren’t’ grounded in actual practice? How do we realistically show how expectations for the job can match the requirements for the job? How do we help each other understand how to make better decisions around finding a balance in their lives? How do we make the norm not overwork?

I have thought a lot about these questions and trying to determine ways to address some of them. That’s one of the reason #womeninTC was started. Since some of these issues cut across academic job titles, and they definitely cut across all institutional types. This means having these conversations are important for all of us. These are big, hard questions and ones with no easy  immediate answers. But they are questions we need to start trying to ask and answer because the amount of stress, exhaustion, and fear associated with this job needs to be tempered with more realistic expectations that result in less stress, exhaustion, and fear.

As Colleen Derkatch** recently pointed out on Twitter, there is something fundamentally wrong when institutions market and encourage faculty to attend resilience workshops all the while touting and encouraging all the behaviors that lead to the need for resilience.

I’m all about being resilient. It’s a great word. There’s a lot to be said for building up a toughness to get through the day-to-day realities of life. But what we as a field need to focus on is how to invoke resilience in less toxic, work driven ways. We need to celebrate and perform resilience in different ways. We need to encourage and praise our collective resilience when we

  • stand our ground based on decisions that benefit our physical and mental health
  • choose to say no more to overwork
  • make strategic decisions to protect our time that has direct benefits in balancing our lives
  • support one another when hard decisions are necessary
  • find ways to shift our institutional cultures ever so slightly that benefit the most vulnerable among us
  • push back against policies by drafting new ones that encourage a healthy work outlook

But the thing about resilience is we need to use it and our ability to be resilient to our advantage. What about a resilience that helps us get back up when we’ve knocked down not to just do the same thing again, but to thoughtfully and carefully consider what factors led to the need for resilience in that moment. Figuring out what the difficulty was that forced us to recover is the first step to changing institutional cultures, and those are steps we can take individually and collectively. Let’s use our resilience to change the system.

Wishing you peace, joy, and health!

*This is in no way a criticism of anyone and the decisions they make. I get why most decisions are made. I do this job too. But the overarching point is that so many people are suffering in big and small ways based in large part on a culture that needs changing.

**I want to thank Colleen and Aimee Morrison for helping me think through some of the ideas here and helping me articulate some of my ongoing concerns about the systems and cultures that are in part causing so many problems with people’s mental and physical well being. However, all ideas are my own.

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