I don’t think I have ever had a harder semester than this spring.
Part of it is that I had a really large class with basically no help, which required a lot of face time (2.5 hrs of lecture, 1.5 hrs of discussion, 6 hours of office hours on regular weeks — always someone in the office, additional all-day office hours pre-midterm, and this is all not accounting for all the email, time spent on writing HW problems and solutions, and grading the exams). I like my students, but it was a lot of time interacting with people, which is temporarily uplifting but ultimately quite draining. In the evenings on days when I had a lecture plus discussion, I could only veg out or go to bed early.
But the biggest part of it was all the service that I had. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on an interdepartmental search which ultimately failed. I am resentful because we were made to Skype interview applicants like the place is on fire — on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day, on New Year’s Eve; I could not have one goddamn week off where I wasn’t required to show up on campus. I also chaired a department committee that required a lot — A LOT — of writing; basically assembling award nominations for colleagues for honors both internal and external, which requires soliciting letters, twisting arms, reading carefully the candidate’s papers and their colleagues’ letters, and ultimately writing lengthy nomination letters that are, of course, supposed to be detailed, specific, quoting external letter writers, and also dripping with adulatory epithets. If you have ever assembled a nomination for anyone, especially a successful one, you know that they are very labor-intensive. There were two additional members of the committee, but they ended up (nicely) blowing me off when I asked them to do things, citing personal demands and apologizing profusely… So I had to do all of the fuckin’ nominations. And there were many. So. Many.
Finally, we get to the institution-level committee that I wrote about a bit before. While all committees were laborious, this one also really challenged my interpersonal skills. Never before have I had to negotiate so much with some very unpleasant, stubborn people. There was a higher-up who revealed themselves in the most unflattering light. This interpersonal-interaction aspect of the committee and the frustrations around it spilled everywhere — they not only ate away at my time, but they killed my will to do technical work; they also left me irritable and distracted at home with my family. Honestly, I don’t know how full-time admins do these types of jobs. They must have ways to turn off the work drama to be able to return to their private lives. I understand doing an admin job for a few years when it’s your turn to chair a department or whatever… But to crave this type of work? Such people must have personality types that are very, very different from mine.
This experience also makes me exceedingly grateful that I don’t work in a company. I can only imagine the potential for drama, frustration, and the resulting lack of technical progress that can arise from interpersonal friction on a team in a company.
I also did all the usual service that never goes away, such as reviewing proposals, attending panels, reviewing lots of papers, doing my duty as associate editor in a journal. Very recently, I ended up grudgingly scoring some 150 abstracts for a conference for which I am on the program committee. I was huffing and puffing and I finally asked myself why I accepted to be on it. I have been on the program committee for this conference a number of times, and I know why they keep asking me to do it — they cannot figure out which other woman to ask to do it. But I don’t really attend that conference, it’s not really my community. It’s often overseas, and it’s both costly to travel abroad and I have grown to hate travel, so don’t want to do overseas trips without a good reason. So why did I accept this year? All it will be is a bullet on my annual report. Hardly worth it.
I am going to another conference overseas that is much more my core community, and where I have to give multiple talks by my group because none of the students who did the work can travel — one for health reasons, two for visa issues. Nuts.
Another aspect of fatigue comes from family life. Eldest and Middle Boy have a lot of activities. MB is quite the athlete, and he goes to swimming, basketball (season over, thankfully), and now soccer. That means lots of chauffeuring after work and on the weekends. Eldest swims daily and is very serious about it; he can drive, but doesn’t have his own car, so there are always logistical challenges with his early practices (honestly, everything is set up for stay-at-home moms or for kids driving themselves; as if people can routinely afford to maintain a whole fleet of cars).
But I do enjoy watching my kids partake in sports. Basketball is my favorite, but soccer gets me out into the sun for an hour on Saturdays, for which my bones will no doubt thank me.
All this thankless service work has pushed back the submission times of some of my group’s papers. My group members have been very patient, but couldn’t wait for the semester to end. They are now all over me to send off the papers, and I understand their impatience.
The problem is that I am sooo tired that I would really need to just not be responsible for anyone or anything right now. That’s obviously not going to happen with all my children and all my students, but it would be so wonderful if it could. Although, I wonder how resentful I would be to come back to the grind after, say, 2-3 weeks somewhere exotic where I am unencumbered? Plenty resentful, I bet.
I am eligible for a sabbatical the academic year after next (once every 7 years, 1 semester at full pay or a year at a bit over half pay).
This new sabbatical cannot come soon enough. I hope to spend at least some of it learning new things and honing my rusty German at an excellent overseas institution.
In other news, I have become a named (endowed) prof. I am happy for the honor and for the discretionary funds, but the impostor syndrome is stronger than ever. By now I know not to share my thoughts about this in real life, but I feel like I stole this honor from the more worthy candidates who were up against me. Phoebe from “Friends” illustrates how the impostor syndrome feels: