All posts tagged “academia

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash [person pouring coffee into a mug with the word "ugh" written on it]
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Mid-Semester Slump

It’s that time of the semester again. You’ve taught your Nth English Composition library instruction session/info lit class/freshman seminar. Everyone is sick–including you. That 3rd cup of coffee doesn’t quite pack the same punch. All of the deadlines for all of the writing projects that you were so excited about are all looming in the semi-immediate horizon. You’ve hit the Mid-Semester Slump, and it sucks.

It happens every year, and almost always hits hardest in the fall. Yet every fall I’m surprised when it happens. I can’t quite figure out why my energy is so low and I can’t quite shake what should have been a 3-day cold 2 weeks later. All hopes of a regular exercise schedule feel like a pipe dream, but I was just able to accomplish that a few weeks earlier. What is it about the midterm that makes life and work so difficult and dreary? Is it the repetition? The stress? Something else?

I’m trying to make my way out of the slump with excessive amounts of coffee and croissants, but they just aren’t quite doing the trick. I’m starting to attribute these feelings to the garbage fire that is the news in this country coupled with being a latina in it. That said, my work is still my work and my family still needs my best self. So what are your suggestions for getting through this slog? What’s worked for you in previous semesters? How do you take care of yourself and revitalize your feelings when the semester starts to the feel like a drag?


black mug on desk with text that reads "we work"
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Humblebrags, Guilt, and Professional Insecurities

Thank you, @AcademicsSay for this oh-so-timely nugget of truth. I’ve never felt so seen or so read. I’ve been trying to measure the success of a sabbatical that’s more than half over in terms of the hours I’ve spent at my kitchen table reading, writing, analyzing, and typing. It’s been strange to not be rushing to meeting after class after class after meeting. I can’t say I’m sooooooo busy or things are soooooooo crazy right now in the same way my working colleagues can right now, and it’s been making me feel sooooooo guilty.

Where does that guilt come from? Why am I being so hard on myself for not spending more hours working when I have some decent sabbatical accomplishments already in the bag, my partner’s been through (and continues to go through) a major health crisis, and I have a young son? A lot of this self-imposed pressure is just, unfortunately, a part of my personality. I always want to do more, better, faster, GO! Over the past year I’ve learned that I’m more ambitious than I originally thought I could be.

But a large part of these professional insecurities come from a culture of academia that constantly forces us to ask ourselves: Am I doing enough? The answer to this question is almost always a resounding YES, and yet…AND YET, we can always point to someone who is doing more, better, faster, GO! Our emails to our colleagues always start with, “This week is CRAZY busy,” or “I have so much to do,” or “I have meeting after meeting; class after class.” I recognize that some of these statements might be genuine venting. People are tired and they sometimes need to share their woes. But when this is the constant tenor of conversation in academia, something is wrong.

We are, as @AcademicsSay so aptly stated, valorizing overwork. In our culture of tenure, continuing appointment, or promotion (whatever it may look like in your library), NOT being overworked and overwhelmed means you’re not working enough. I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of shady comments from colleagues–“Wow, I wish I had time to have lunch! OMG your desk is so clean. Mine’s covered in papers to grade. When do you find time to work out? I have 2 papers to revise and resubmit.” And how do we respond? Do we say, “Regular meals and workouts are important to my mental and physical health?” Probably not. The response is more like, “Oh, that’s just today. Last week I was at work from 7am-7pm and reading well past midnight!” It’s almost as if self-care is an alien concept, and to engage in any measure of separation between work life and personal life means you aren’t “doing academia” correctly.

I love being an academic librarian. I love being faculty at a higher education institution. What I don’t love is the humblebrag olympics we engage in on a daily basis. I don’t love to poor modelling we are demonstrating to our students, who seem to think that working more is better than working efficiently. I don’t love the ways in which we uphold overwork to the point where we are setting up a culture that in turn exploits adjuncts, post-docs, and visiting professors who are told that if they “just stick with it” they’ll eventually earn the privilege of also being too stressed to function. I don’t love that we are told to wait until after tenure to start a family, focus on our health, and, well, have a life, as though before that we were some human-shaped dough only focused on promotion.

I’ve thought about work-life balance, work-life separation, and vocational bleed (no separation between work and life) a lot these past few months as I attempt to live through a sabbatical I can be proud to call my own. I am proud. I am proud that I signed a book contract. I am proud that I can finally chaturanga in yoga class without bending my knees. I am proud that I made a kick-ass dinner last night for my family. I’m proud I read a few chapters yesterday. I am proud that I put moisturizer on my face (with SPF!) this morning. I’m proud I’ll be presenting at LOEX. There is so much for all of us to be proud of on a daily basis.

There is also so much for us to examine. What kind of examples are we setting for our junior colleagues? In promoting our overwork as some kind of martyrdom are we contributing to their own overwork and ultimate burnout? Are we contributing to an academic culture that leaves folks ripe for exploitation? What are some changes we can make to the way we move through our day to create the work culture we want?

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Who I am & What I do (and why those are not the same)

beach blanket and bucket in the sand overlooking a shoreline at the beach

One big part of who I am: relaxer at beaches

In a not-so-rare event of not-quite-epic but highly relevant proportions, two of my Twitter communities crossed streams today. I try not to hide my love for popular romance novels and the amazingly smart, talented women who write them. Many of them are brilliant academics, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they write about or link to others writing about higher ed and academic culture. Yet it’s always a nice surprise when it happens, as it did today.

Sandra Schwab, a wonderful romance author and literature professor, shared a post by Katrine Smiet, PhD candidate in philosophy and gender studies at Radboud University and blogger at Feminist Nuances. Take a few minutes today and read her post, How to Become a Prolific Academic Writer, Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic SubjectIt’s an insightful critique of productivity/efficiency advice models for academic writing and the structural inadequacies of the neoliberal university in supporting writing/scholarly activity. What resonated most with me was her dissection of the classification of academic work as “vocation” rather than a “job,” and its implications for the academic worker.

The conflation of work with personal fulfillment, of labor with purpose, of meaning with productivity, is (I think) a dangerous one. I want my work to be meaningful because I think there are genuine opportunities for academic libraries to make a significant impact on the educational experiences of students. I also try to do my best work at all times because secretly I’m still the kid that wants all the gold stars. That said, I don’t derive my meaning from my work. I once had a colleague tell me that even if she wasn’t working as a librarian, she would still be a librarian. At the time I found that statement admirable. Being a librarian was who she was; what she was, was a librarian. I’ve since heard variations on the same theme from academics of all stripes: I am always mathematician. I am a neuroscientist. I am first and foremost a scholar. 

Now, those declarations make me tired.

I can understand them within a professional context. We all try to make sense of the world around us through categorization. At work that often means we define ourselves by our job titles–archivist, instruction librarian, dean–but in life we are whole people. Being a librarian is not who I am; it’s my job. And just because I enjoy the work that I do as a librarian does not mean that it does not feel like work. I worry sometimes, as I dig into critical librarianship and pedagogy, that there is this expectation that the work that I do must be a part of some higher calling/purpose, that it should be done at all times, or that I should be “on” at all times. I don’t want to do that. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch and watch Thorgy Thor lipsync for her life. Sometimes I want to have a dance party with my son. Sometimes I just want to obsessively online shop for a new pair of clogs.

The point is that I don’t think deriving personal worth from my job, or viewing librarianship as a vocation rather than a job is helpful to me. I think it sets me, and likely many others, up for exploitation (Yes! I will be on yet another committee), disappointment (because work doesn’t always go well), and an unhealthy attachment to this thing that I do, not this thing that I am. I also wonder if it’s not just a neoliberal Trojan horse sent in to make me feel guilty about all the late evenings I’m not spending working on scholarship.

I’m about to start reading Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, which a colleague informs me centers around an ethic of care. I’m excited to learn more about it and how I can extend the notion of students as whole people (important!!!) to librarians as whole people, and to myself as a whole person.