Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Semester and seasons (of the year, and of life in general)

Last week, I posted about one of the most obvious and often problematic issues that all of us deal with-- time management.  Undoubtedly, I have a ton of tasks to complete today, especially since it is the day after a long weekend.  However, I wanted to take some time to reflect a little more on this issue, since I often find this reflection time to be therapeutic in that it helps me to place this whole issue, which often seems overbearing, into perspective.

Many moms in particular might be familiar with the site "Hands Free Mama."  I love her posts, and I am often moved by her writing.  I read over the following post today:

http://www.handsfreemama.com/2014/10/14/a-daily-goal-with-life-changing-results/

I am often guilty of always feeling like I have to multi-task as stated in this post.  I often find it hard, even on this past long weekend, to be fully present when my kids are talking to me or when they want me to play with them.  I don't have to be glancing at my phone to not be fully present-- so much is always swirling in my head about the different tasks that I have to accomplish over the next week or even just what I have to get done next.  To be honest, I don't like it when I cannot be fully present in the moment.  I got thinking on this train of thought late last night, and I randomly remembered (might I add this is not the first time I've thought about this) that I had barely  (and I mean, *really* barely) written anything in my son's baby book.  My mom had bought this for me as a shower gift with good intentions, but I just never got around to entering stuff even though I had every intention of doing so.  Could I blame grad school?  Maybe, but of course, life just got in the way and I never made the time to do it.  My son is now in preschool, and I still think of all the things that I could have, should have written down.  I googled "never filled out baby book" and encountered many other guilty moms with similar sentiments. 

Even after mulling over this for the umpteenth time, I think about the motto communicated in the Hands Free Mama post-- keep it simple.  In this day and age, we are privileged with technology to help us remember those key moments-- smartphones, video cameras, social media sites, etc, have helped us to chronicle our children's lives in a way that our parents couldn't.  Why sweat it?  Just try to be present in the moment right now with our children.  We could spend hours filling out a baby book but not enough time being fully present.  I also read an article on Babycenter about writing a letter to your child every year on their birthday to reflect on the previous year.  Honestly, this is a great practice that I would love to take up from hear on out, but I'm going to try not to stress if I don't follow through in the way that I had originally hoped. 

As I try to keep following this stream of consciousness as I write this post, I want to connect the motto of the Hands Free Mama post to the title of this post-- "Semester and Seasons."  Inevitably, as a grad student and/or one who teaches at any level, the seasons of the year are often marked by semesters (or quarters, depending on the system your school uses).  In the northern U.S., "Fall" semester is marked by the changing leaves in all their colorful grandeur, and the gradual cooling temperatures (unless, of course, you live in New England, which likes to constantly go back and forth....grr.).  The start of the Fall semester often indicates an end to summer, even though the official calendar and the overall weather often doesn't line up with this.  The end of the Fall signifies holiday break; unfortunately, Spring does not begin with the onset of the Spring semester (unless you live in parts of the South/Southwest, your weather might be more like the Spring of the North).  Yes, we all know this stuff, but what I'm trying set the stage for is that the changes across and within semesters along with the changes across and within seasons can often color our lives in general-- not only as students and instructors, but also our overall lives.  Our moods might be impacted as the semesters and the seasons ebb and flow.  Already this semester, I have often reflected on how I miss the summer; I've communicated this to my kids.  Although I couldn't get much work done in the summer and was sometimes frustrated by this, I miss those key moments with my kids.  Yes, I would sometimes get frustrated with them, and I was often tired, but those memories are golden.  I  can still make those times with my kids.  I don't have to reserve those times for periods when I just can't get child care, I'm not teaching as much, etc.  I ended up putting a stop button on work this weekend so that we could make some Fall memories.  I need to put a stop button on multi-tasking sometimes without feeling guilty-- after all, we are not robots (I've probably said that before). 

I also reflect on the need for more boundaries as an instructor.  I had a student e-mail me the same note twice this weekend.  I didn't respond for a few reasons.  I had previously communicated to students to give me at least 48 hours to respond to e-mails.  I've reflected on articles and blog posts by other professors who have set limits on student e-mails, precisely to keep a work-life balance.  When I was an undergrad, this would have never been an issue, because e-mail wasn't as prevalent then.  If we had a question, especially about an assignment, we had to plan ahead and speak with the instructor in person.  We need time to enjoy the seasons, too, and we shouldn't have to feel guilty about it.  We have responsibilities outside of school too, just like the large majority of our students do.  Of course, I am often put off by students' persistence despite some of the boundaries that I've tried to set, but I need to try to not let that influence how I experience the connected moments which translate into the seasons of life with my family.

I guess this post was a bit of a ramble as I was trying to connect various thoughts that I've had in the past few days.  Now that I tried to get all of that out in a semi-organized fashion, I need to concentrate on the tasks at hand.  I am going to try to  have a positive perspective on the rest of the semester and the changing seasons ahead; in the process, I want to be more purposeful in being focused on my kids when I am with them to make memories for each season.  Also, I want to have a better outlook so that I can make a positive impact on my students as well; so I am not as frustrated because I don't have an adequate work-life balance.  In addition, I want to approach my dissertation research and writing with optimism; as I mentioned in my last post, I want to continue to give it first place in my work life, regardless of the shifts in the semesters and seasons.  Everything has its place and time, but each aspect of our lives needs to have its rightful place; we are the only ones who can honestly determine if every aspects of our lives is receiving its rightful place.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Links dealing with work-life balance

In lieu of my most recent posts...just a couple of links that I came across.  Of course, there are many more, particularly with respect to grad student parents:

http://gradstudents.carleton.ca/2014/work-life-balance-dont-let-dissertation-define/

http://gradstudents.carleton.ca/2013/balancing-thesis-full-time-job/


The neverending time management conundrum-teaching, family, dissertation, potential publications, etc.

Right off the bat, I want to say that I cannot believe that October is upon us.  Time continues to get away from us; by using the pronoun "us" I am really trying to highlight my own perpetual frustrations with time management that are somewhat minimized by referring to myself as part of a frustrated collective. 

In mid-August, I was pretty content with the fact that I was only going to be teaching one course.  However, financial realities set in.  How to afford preschool tuition and any amount of day care if I only taught one course (even though I am privileged in the sense that my husband has a decent job)?  What about other bills, like the continuation tuition that I have to pay?  Fast forward, I am teaching a total of 3 courses throughout this semester at 2 different institutions.  I am thankful for the opportunities, nevertheless, I am struggling to give priority to my dissertation research.  I want my students to have an optimal learning environment; I want to give substantial feedback on their assignments.  However, I would by lying if I said that the focus on my dissertation wasn't suffering as a result.  Not to mention, I've been trying to be especially intentional about focusing on my kids when I am with them, but I would also be fibbing if I said that the stress of constantly thinking about what I should do next doesn't influence my demeanor.  Another case in point-- my husband wanted to go on a mini foliage scouting trip over the long weekend- maybe just a day trip, or maybe overnight since we can get a discount.  Aside from my back problems and the thought of my pain level after sitting in the car for an extended period of time, I just didn't feel too inclined to agree to it due to all these things swirling around in my head (and, of course, the fact that I need to get a lot done in a short amount of time over the next few weeks).

Sometimes, despite the financial obvious, teaching whilst trying to work on a dissertation seems counterproductive, especially when one is paying for child care.  I take on more classes to make more money so that I can pay my tuition and other bills, yes, but a decent chunk of the change inevitably goes to pay day care.  Of course, I use a good amount of the time that my kids are in day care/preschool to work on stuff related to the courses that I teach.  However, I also use a good amount of time to work on  my dissertation and other academic projects.  I have to tell myself that if I didn't have child care, I wouldn't even have time to do the latter.  Yes, maybe I could work in the evenings and on weekends, but in all honesty, not every person and household allows for that.  Also, my kids are benefitting in many ways from preschool and child care.  Yes, mommy guilt is there sometimes, but overall, I'm just frustrated about the time I'm spending on teaching at the expense of my dissertation research.

I know that I need to give priority to my dissertation (did I say that already?  Maybe I did).  I have to tell myself, my students won't suffer if they have to wait an extra couple of days for an assignment.  Also, they probably won't suffer if I cut down a bit on prep time.  However, my wallet will suffer if I have to take an extra semester to finish my dissertation (and hence pay more tuition).  Also, my overall well-being might take a hit if I don't finish well.  From now on, I need to set aside a whole entire day per week to work on my dissertation, from morning till evening.  No grading, no course prep, etc.  I've been trying to do that today, despite the fact that I had to teach my 8 a.m. class this morning (I know, that's not an entire day).  I have to remember, that this dissertation is my main job right now, although I love teaching and have a responsibility to my students.  Of course, I can't ignore that responsibility, but that will also suffer if I don't do something to overcome the frustration of not making my research my main priority, at least in my own "work" world.  As alluded to above, work-life/work-family balance does add another dimension to the equation.




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Link-Parenting through a PhD (or 5 ways not to go completely insane)



http://thesiswhisperer.com/2010/10/28/parenting-through-a-phd-or-5-ways-not-to-go-completely-insane/
To this post, amen and amen!  I'm feeling a little insane right now, especially as I am sick with a particularly cruddy cold (honestly, I don't think that I've ever had a cold in August), we are planning to go away for the weekend, and the semester starts next week.  Thankfully, the kids were able to go to childcare today, but I'm feeling agitated as I really need to get more work done whilst feeling particularly low on energy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Everything happens in the summer- some related thoughts

I just came across this blog post on mamanervosa.com, and I had to share it because I've been having some similar thoughts:

Everything happens in the summer



As I sit here tired out after being alone with my young children for nearly 5 full days as my husband was away for work, much has been going through my mind.  Of course, since today is one of my "child care days", I should be just focusing on my work.  However, as I already mentioned, I am frankly just tired.  Getting up early and rushing out to physical therapy (and the aftermath thereof) surely doesn't help as I try to sit here and send out letters to recruit participants for my dissertation research along with planning out the many other tasks that need to be completed before the semester begins (EEK!) in four weeks from today.   As I sit back and think about how tired I feel, I reflect on many things.  First, I have always admired my mother, who was a single parent for much of my life.  Yes, I am an only child, so she "only" had one child (see my sarcasm in the quotes there), but she had to battle with many things whilst raising me and juggling school and work.  Yes, she had a great deal of family support in the form of my grandparents and aunts/uncles-- I have fond memories, especially of summer days when my grandmother took me to the beach with my cousins; when I slept over my aunt's house and went swimming with my cousins and their cousins in their grandparents' pool.  Thus, I am reminiscing much in the way that the author of the above post does about my childhood as I reflect on how my children are enjoying the summer.  True, I really don't have that family support, but I am also not a single parent.  I can't imagine juggling my current situation of a PhD program, teaching, and children as a single parent, but I know that there are many men and women out there who do just that.  I have the utmost respect for them.



Second, I reflect on how blessed I am to have this time with my children, and to see the summer through their eyes.  Yes yes, if I had never gone back to school and if I had stayed in my professional field, I could have a decent full time job and would be making a decent salary by this point in my life.  However, I never would have had this time with my young children.  Yes, I have sacrificed work time to spend this time with them, but much of that is due to the plain fact that we simply can't afford to put both children in full time child care for the summer.  So, I try to make it as interesting as I can for them and take advantage of the weather when I can, since I know how quickly winter approaches in this part of the country.  I also know that I am highly privileged to be able to take them around to museums, parks, etc.  I reflect even more on my privilege when I think of the mothers and children mentioned in the above blog post-- those mothers in Guatemala, hoping that their children will reach the "land of freedom" safely, hoping that they can attain a better life.  Those mothers in places like Gaza, Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, the DRC, and the list goes on--- the parents who don't know if they or their children will live another day.  Those who live in informal settlements all around the world, fearing eviction, demolition, disease, and death.  Those who live in the "war zones" of our own country's streets.  True, none of us knows how long our time will be hear on earth, but for some, the concerns are more imminent.



This has not been the first time I've been alone for several days with my children.  I admit there were times when I just ran out of ideas; I grew impatient when a certain child decided to decorate the dining room table and floor *on purpose* with food after I had strained my back mopping earlier that day, but we also made summertime memories during those few days.  I know many people who have to "do it alone" for much longer periods of time, not because they are a single parent per se, but because their spouse is deployed.  With deployment comes its own set of daily uncertainties.  Much respect to military families.



As I think about the blog post and the challenging moments I've had with my kids; the times I wished that I had a little more support; the days I wished that I had more time and/or the focus and energy to spend on my work; I stop myself to focus on the fact that time is precious.  Yes, I have a responsibility to my academic work.  Yes, I need to set aside time to take care of household stuff.  However, these summer days are short, and I'm grateful that I have been able to spend this time, reliving some of the good points of childhood and also attending to some self care in the process. 




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

ABD!!!

Again, I haven't posted in a fairly long while.  Thankfully, I have good news to share.  I successfully defended by dissertation proposal in April and have thus entered the "ABD" stage.  My defense was followed by the last 2 weeks of the semester and crazy grading for 2 classes; compiling my IRB application alongside prepping for a month-long overseas trip to visit my in-laws.  I was blessed that my son LOVES airplanes and that although my daughter is a very feisty and independent 2 year old, they did splendidly well on all of the flights and while we were in South Asia/the Middle East.  Every since we got back a few weeks ago, they have been asking to go back there.  If only it weren't so expensive (and of course, tiring)...we could go more often. 

Since we returned from the trip, I've been a bit swamped working on another project whilst patiently waiting for IRB approval to begin my dissertation research.  I received the official approval right before the 4th of July weekend.  I've been adding to my list of potential interviewees and doing more background research.  A few scheduling issues have crept up-- mainly 1.  I only have 2 days of day care per week for the rest of the summer; 2.  I had to start physical therapy twice per week for chronic back problems.  Unfortunately, the PT office doesn't have evening hours, so I've been trying to get the earliest or the latest appointments to squeeze out as much work time those two days per week.  I'm also trying (or at least *starting* to try) to get even a little work done during the evenings, but I must say, it is challenging for different reasons.  I was encouraged this morning by the following post that I uncovered on Inside Higher Ed.  I really need to make my schedule more "sacred":

http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/parenting-grad-school#sthash.XfkWkn8x.dpbs

I must say that I've also had my fair share of symptoms of "imposter syndrome" the last couple of weeks, which has been enhanced by the chronic sense of not having enough time.  I need to take the advice of the author of this article and continually perform cognitive behavioral therapy on myself (I think that I mentioned this in one of my prior "advice that I should take myself" posts) by saying that "I do have enough time; I will get these things done; I will reach my goals, no matter how miniscule they might seem."  I also need to tell myself that it's okay if I need to spend some time organizing my disastrous house (i.e., projects that should have been done LAST summer) so that we can 1.  possibly get some stuff together to have a tag sale, since things are quite tight financially this summer; 2.  it will just help me to be more focused overall.  Also, the ABD stage comes with the reality that I will have to figure out many things on my own; due to the fact that I live far from campus and the basic nature of my research project, I will feel very isolated at times.  This is all part of professional development, although getting over the initial hurdles of recruiting participants is not always an easy feat.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grading


 I can definitely relate to the blog post below.  I'm always amazed as well (like many of the other instructors who commented on this blog post) at how many students ask if I have graded their papers yet (either the very next day or 2 days after they were due), know the sheer magnitude of papers that were submitted.  I saw that one student commented on this post, saying that professors shouldn't assign papers if they don't like grading them; that they should stop whining because they as students have much more work to do.  I could tell this person from experience, that professors (especially newer instructors) spend more time prepping for each class than a student does (on average).  Not to mention, providing useful feedback on papers for even a class of 15-20 students can take much more time than it would take one of them to actually write the paper.  All of this doesn't include responding to e-mails, meetings during office hours, etc.  I don't expect students to get it, by any means.  Before I taught my first class, I had similar sentiments.  However, I assign papers because it is part of the whole learning process, and I want students to apply the concepts we discuss in class to the "outside world."  Well, I could rant and rave about this topic, but I need to get on to grading!



The Five Stages of Grading