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Mid-semester planning

There are many reasons that I appreciate having Karla Erickson in the Dean’s office. One of the more important ones is that Karla has made it a point of studying and finding ways to support mid-career faculty [1,2]. Her preliminary study results have already appeared, and more are forthcoming. From my perspective, the study is useful primarily in that it helps inform how she supports faculty. At the beginning, middle, and end of each semester, she invites mid-career faculty to communal [3] planning sessions in which we debrief about how things have been going and try to plan for the upcoming weeks, months, or beyond.

Today was the first middle of the semester planning session I’ve attended [4]. Perhaps because it’s just before break, I was the only one to show up, so Karla and I debriefed together, and she added a few questions specific to my situation. This musing serves as an extension of my notes from that session. I’ve put my approximations of Karla’s prompts in italics.

Do you want to start with our normal deep breathing exercise?


Take three slow deep breaths. Then take a minute to just relax with your eyes closed.

It would be a lot easier if my family wasn’t texting me.

Is there anything special you’d like to talk about today?

I already have some ideas for spring break [5], so let’s just follow your plans for today.

Take a bit to write down moments over the past few weeks when you felt connected or energized by your work.

The times that most come to mind are when I’m teaching, particularly CSC 151 and CSC 282. However, there have even been some times when I was teaching CSC 321 this semester.

My students just presented a talk and poster at SIGCSE. They were one of a few sets of undergraduates who were presenting in the main track, rather than the student research track. They did an excellent job. Seeing them do well energizes me, or at least make me feel proud.

Sometimes things just click when I’m writing these essays. I can’t recall all of the essays that have clicked, but they include the letter to our students about cover letters [6], a few of the sections of Don’t Embarrass Me; Don’t Embarrass Yourself, and perhaps that MathLANifesto.

What can make those happen again?

The best classes are those that I’ve prepared carefully for. I could make more time to prepare for an think about my classes.

I’m not sure how to make the student talk at SIGCSE happen again, but I am taking on new research students, and I expect that they will have their work accepted to some conference. I can also support my students as they prepare for the all-campus research presentations.

If I continue to write, I will, on occasion, find that some essay topics just click. I’m not sure what those topics will be, but I’ll find out as I write.

Think about the following buckets and think about particular goals for those buckets: (1) Community, Camaraderie, and Company - Who do you need to get connected to? (2) Reset, Recover, Recuperate.
(3) Work (Artistic, Intellectual, Embodied, Creative). (4) Department [7].

  1. I need to connect more with Michelle and with my family. I may need to spend more time chatting one-on-one with my junior colleagues [8]. I’d like to spend more time with friends.

  2. It’s spring break [9]. I should find time to read, both for fun and for development. I would like to finish John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I should finish Getting Things Done. I’d like to re-read Make It Stick.

  3. I need to move forward on the summer code camps, particularly getting advertisements out. As I noted earlier, I need to spend a bit more time on class prep. I should continue these daily essays.
    That’s about all I can do right now [10].

  4. Tenure-track proposals are due April 1. I should write one. I have another important administrative document to write whose details I should not include here. I have to finish the nth iteration of the department’s research opportunities for all document. I should work with a colleague to make plans for the department’s summer retreat. I need to work on some broader issues within the department relating to diversity. I should have space planning done so that Jerod doesn’t have to worry about it when he takes over as chair. There’s more, but that’s enough to think about for now.

Pick a few to prioritize, and pick tiny tasks to move forward on those.

The camp won’t run itself. I should check with one of the possible recruits for the outreach coordinator position to see if they are still interested. Unfortunately, our breaks don’t match. I should check in with the research students. I should verify the dates with Conference Operations. I should work with the students to get advertisements made.

The tenure-track proposal is a high priority. I should start by finding one of our recent proposals and start from there. I should ask the Dean’s office for the data that they normally provide. I should check where we stand with declared majors. I should identify students who are likely to declare as majors and determine whether or not they plan to declare.

While class preparation is a never-ending task, there are a few things that I can do during break to move forward. For CSC 282, I should write the series of readings on macros, and whatever I decide will be the next set of readings for the course [11]. For CSC 322, I should build a Rails site with Devise [12,14].

I didn’t list it above, but I need to return to broader organizational issues so that I can be more efficient. I will start by reading Getting Things Done. I will follow a colleague’s lead, and try using OmniFocus. I will return my inbox to zero messages. I’ll continue straightening my office.

What are things that you want to keep doing? What do you want to start doing to connect to your real goals?

I want to keep writing these essays. I don’t always enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written. I do think I should find some more directly pertinent things to write about, but we’ll see.

I want to keep spending time making sure that I have sufficiently prepared material for my classes.

I haven’t set aside enough time to talk with Micki. I should do so [15].

I need to set up a task management system.

What will it look like when you are not in charge of the department [16]?

While not being chair should give me some time/mental space, I expect that I will need to provide Jerod with some support, particularly because we have two complete reviews and (I hope) one or two searches next year. I also need to do some preparation for those searches, particularly figuring out where more things can go (offices, labs, teaching spaces).

While I will be glad to be passing on some chair tasks, I expect that courses will keep me busy. I will be redesigning CSC 151 over the summer. I will be working with a new colleague on the design of CSC 301 [18]. I’d like to do a deeper dive into the previous CSC 322 projects so that I can be better prepared for CSC 321 and CSC 322; it looks like I’ll be teaching those courses for at least two more years.

We have some transitions happening in the management of our Linux network. I expect that those will take some of my time.

Should I allow myself to be put on more committees or should I stay with the current group of committees, most of which are not FOC-appointed? It’s been pretty busy this year, but shared governance requires that faculty participate. Maybe I’ll be more selective. But what should I select? Or maybe I’m better for others if I don’t do anything, given that I have been too close to burnout too many times recently, and may not be contributing at a level that I should [19].

However, in the end, I should primarily use the time freed by giving up that chair’s role to shorten the number of ours I work each week.

Let’s review some of the questions above. When are you feeling particularly connected?

We talked about teaching and teased out that I like both the improvisational aspect of teaching and the back-and-forth of the not-quite-Socratic method that I use [20]. We also talked a bit about the active-learning approaches I tend to use, and how those mesh with ehe more teacher-centric improvisational lectures and recitation. Karla asked whether I’ve always enjoyed these aspects, and it seems that I have.

What are things that you want to focus on or keep track of so that you can continue to feel connected?

I was unfocused and I’m bad at keeping track of things, so I did not record my answer to this question. So, let’s see. If I’m most connected when I’m teaching, that means that I should focus on issues related to my teaching, particularly on class prep.

Let’s revisit what to do to prepare for the chair’s transition.

Karla suggested that I write a short letter to my successor looking at the big issues that have happened in the department over the past two years, and where we stand on those issues. She noted that without some documentation, what often happens is that questions go to the new chair, who sends them to the old chair, who responds, and that doesn’t really make the old chair’s life less busy. I expect that my short letter will end up being one of these essays [21].

Karla suggested that I firm up my plans for what I am doing next year because If you don’t have a plan, others plan things for you. My plans should be pretty clear: Teach new courses. Support new chair. Deal with MathLAN transitions. Develop a more balanced life.

I don’t think she meant it the way I took it, but Karla also suggested that I write a mission statement for myself. That could be an interesting task, and I might be able to turn it into a series of essays. We’ll see.


As always, the session with Karla was an hour well spent. My attempt to write it up in this form was another hour well spent. I’ve thought about some issues. I’ve realized some things that I might not otherwise have realized. I panicked a bit about the summer camps. But I’ve made plans for moving forward. I’ve also come up with a variety of topics to write about, which is always nice.

Stay tuned for my notes on the next planning session, eight weeks or so from now.

[1] She’s a sociologist. It makes sense that she finds communities to study, and, since she serves as an Associate Dean, the faculty are an appropriate community to study.

[2] Karla defines mid-career as between tenure and retirement. Hence, Karla even includes not-quite-deadwood like me in the classification.

[3] She also does individual planning sessions, for those who prefer them.

[4] It may also be the first one she’s held.

[5] Stay tuned for tomorrow’s essay.

[6] Whoops! I just realized that I never sent that to students. I have now rectified that matter.

[7] Karla added Department because it’s me.

[8] I suppose I should say early career colleagues, but I’ve used junior colleagues long enough that it’s hard to switch.

[9] Well, it’s almost spring break.

[10] I do have a variety of smaller tasks, including moderating the SIGCSE lists and doing some reviews.

[11] No, those aren’t very small tasks. But they are doable.

[12] No, that’s not a small task either. But it should be doable, and it will help me work with students after spring break.

[14] No, I’m not sure why I’m teaching Rails. But I’m going to keep teaching Rails anyway.

[15] Done. We will try to walk and talk for at least ten minutes after dinner as often as we can.

[16] Yes, this question got added because I was the only one there, and I will be stepping down as chair in August [17].

[17] I will be stepping back up into the chair’s role about three years later, presumably for my last three-year term as chair.

[18] I also need to do more grading for CSC 301 this time around.

[19] Karla confirmed that it’s okay to stick with my current committee assignments or perhaps to accept one more.

[20] The randomized recitation, for those of you who are my students.

[21] I may need to elide some parts for confidentiality issues.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-16.