Crankypants

There is work to do tonight, but I can’t make myself do it. Preparing a whole new midterm for one student who was ill, writing a letter of nomination for a student for an award, getting an abstract/bio ready for an upcoming talk.

This has been a really difficult semester and I am really cranky.

I am teaching a new (to me) large undergraduate course. I have essentially no TA support to speak of (thankfully, I have a grader for homework), and the course has required a lot of time to prep the materials (homework, homework solutions, exams) and grade the exams. I teach the lectures and the discussion and I have more office hours than usual, because they are needed — there is always someone in my office during those. This past weekend I graded nearly 100 exams; it took all weekend. The weekend before, I wrote the solutions to about 50 homework problems (postings of solutions before the midterm, making up for missed postings due to work travel). If you are at a teaching-heavy institution, what I wrote might seem like nothing, but I am at a research institution, and teaching is not supposed to take up 20+ hours a week.

I have had more travel than I am comfortable with this whole academic year, and much of it was service related, which means I traveled, worked a ton, then came back to a punishing backlog of work. I have a break in travel till July, and then it’s 6 effing trips between mid-July and mid-September.

I have written too many proposals, and the new NSF fall deadline is just around the corner. I also have some schmoozing with DoD to do to see if some money could be had.

I have way too much service at the department and university level. One of the university-level committees has turned out to be drastically more work than initially promised, so it has been a huge time drain and I have constantly been pissed off about it. It does nothing for me or my career, it is just a humongous waste of time and I feel like a fool for having agreed to do any of it. The way the whole thing is run is unbelievably inefficient and just plain wrong.

Eldest’s swim practice has moved to 4:30, which means I often have to leave at 3:50 to pick him up and drive him to practice. And this also means I always have to work evenings and often weekends, to make up the lost time because the work day is now even shorter than usual, so I also get no play time.

As a result of all this, I have virtually no time to actually mentor my students and work on the group’s papers, let alone read the literature. The fact that I get to do none of it is making me very, very cranky.

I find it mind-boggling that I have to fight hard to find the time to do research, because all the other stuff — most of which does not require me to seriously turn on my brain at all — easily fills 50+ hours per week. It should not be this hard to find the time to do the work that no one but me can do.

6 comments

  1. Get off that university committee as soon as you can!

    That timing thing is why my mom wouldn’t let me do swim team– how long until he gets a drivers license and can drive himself? Is there anybody close enough to carpool with?

    My DH ended up having people who missed exams give oral exams. It made less work for him. I don’t do that, but I also don’t have as many students “miss” exams on a regular basis as he did.

    Good luck!

  2. Teaching properly does take time, even at a research university. Too many administrators and faculty feel that teaching is a distraction from the “real” work of the university, rather than the core mission.

    Note: I’m at an R1 university, but I’ve decided to stop wasting time on grant proposals that don’t get funded and concentrate on keeping teaching alive—that means I’m spending 40–60 hours a week on teaching and service (as undergrad director, vice chair of my department, and program chair of a large non-departmental BS degree), and getting only an hour or two a week for research. I have no graders or TAs for any of my courses (I allocated them all to other faculty), and I did not take my course relief for my administrative job (indeed, I’m teaching an overload this year, because someone has to teach the courses).

    I can’t recommend my choices for a pre-tenure faculty member, but I do believe that the university needs a few more people like me, who are willing to do the hard work of providing students an education, and not treating research as the sole purpose of the university.

  3. students who miss the midterm have their points moved to the final. the students are told the final will be harder than the midterm, so no one misses the midterm unless it’s a real emergency. easy solution, and no extra work.

  4. Your post makes me grateful that my department shields junior faculty from service and under-supported teaching. It also makes me anxious about what will happen to me next year post (I hope) tenure. The ‘life of the mind’ academic career is not quite as it appears in movies.
    Wishing you warm weather and daffodils to carry you through the end of semester.

  5. The weekend before, I wrote the solutions to about 50 homework problems (postings of solutions before the midterm, making up for missed postings due to work travel). If you are at a teaching-heavy institution, what I wrote might seem like nothing, but I am at a research institution, and teaching is not supposed to take up 20+ hours a week.

    Even at teaching-heavy schools, a lot of people just assign problems from the book and copy and paste the solutions from the publisher’s manual. It takes some dedication to write your own problems and solutions. Kudos!

    About 2/3 of my homework problems are twists and modifications of problems in the book and 1/3 are my own problems. But I am moving away from telling them “Do chapter 2, problem 7, except change this one variable” because I don’t want them to go to the solutions manuals on the internet. I write it out myself, with the twists, and with changes in phrasing, so they really have to work at it to see that it’s based on chapter 2, problem 7. And, honestly, if they understand the material well enough to understand that two problems are equivalent, well, they had to do some serious thinking to get there, so I guess they earned their plagiarized solution.

  6. Such an absence of fun would give me real depression. You’re tough.

    I like dafs’ suggestion for midterms.

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