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End-of-semester/beginning-of-summer reflections, Spring 2017

A few years ago, when the amazing Karla Erickson began her term as Associate Dean, she decided that part of her role would be improving our support for what she called mid-career faculty [1]. One of the most tangible parts of that support are reflection sessions that she holds at the beginning, middle, and end of each semester. Although she is now stepping down as Associate Dean [3], she will be continuing with these for the next few years. I believe that mid-career faculty have also become the population that she will be studying for the next few years, since she’s always had sociology of work as part of her professional emphasis.

I find these sessions valuable enough that I have encouraged Karla to consider doing more than just her scholarship. She should, for example, set up a consulting practice and write some workbooks for those who cannot attend her sessions. I hope she takes those recommendations seriously.

This musing represents an extended version of my responses to her prompts at a recent session. I have included her prompts so that you can consider doing a similar self assessment [4,6].

Let’s start by taking three deep cleansing breaths.

I tried typing deep cleansing breaths while taking them with my eyes closed. I got Swwp xlwNAINF VEWrha.

A few quick things: What is hanging over your head right now?

Hmmm … I wrote down I am an idiot, departmental pressures, and helping my kids do well. I don’t remember why I’m an idiot [7]. It’s likely that I have once again committed to too many activities. We also reviewed summer plans informally at some point during this session, so it may just be that we saw that I’ve given myself very little break time this summer. I do have a variety of activities, but research starts immediately after graduation and in the week and a half between the end of research and the start of the Grinnell Science Project, I’m in workshops.

Academics are prone to building time castles. Be careful.

I first thought that Karla said time capsules and couldn’t figure out what that meant [8]. But she said time castles. I think it means that we build these intricate designs of how we will organize our time, but they are not realistic. I should ask.

Okay, we’re going to start by putting things into buckets. Remember: Your goal here is just to get things down, it is not to reflect or prioritize. We’ll reflect and prioritize next.

The buckets often serve as a key part of the sessions. But Karla does a nice job of changing what buckets we think about to reflect the time of the year or semester.

Bucket one: Deferred maintenance on self, family, and home.

  • I need to work on weight and health [9].
  • I need to spend more time with Michelle and the boys. Michelle and I promised ourselves a short walk after dinner each night. The problem with that right now is that we’re not doing normal dinners.
  • I need to help youngest think through possible life paths. What will be right for college? What can he do to help prepare himself to get into the right college?
  • I should help youngest with tennis, and maybe play a bit myself. (Slow, low impact tennis.)
  • I need to help middle think more about the future. He has some great passions and is being somewhat proactive about pursuing those, but it seems like he needs a bit more guidance.
  • I need to straighten (home office, basement, bedroom, living room, family room, work office, work lab, computer, etc.).
  • We need to work on the exterior of the house. We’ve hired a contractor, but I should remind him. We also need to hire a painter for once he’s done. Should we do something about the builder who didn’t bother to put down primer, which led to all sorts of problems? Probably not; he’s out of state.
  • Something weird happened to the roof of the garage. We need to find someone to deal with that.
  • The side-view mirror of my car is broken [10]. I have a replacement. I just need to find the time to replace it.
  • There’s something flapping underneath my car. I should jack up the car and look at it.
  • My car is starting to rust. Do I want to try dealing with that, or should I just let it rust away? It’s hard to hire people in town to do bodywork.
  • Whoops! I keep forgetting to deal with the drain by the driveway.
  • We had to dig up our back yard last spring. We need to reseed that.
  • More generally, we need to work on landscaping. I think Michelle has someone she wants to hire, since neither she nor I ever seems to get to this stuff.

In writing these down, I found myself getting very very anxious. I suppose there’s a reason that some of this gets deferred, other than that my job is busy and doesn’t give me time to deal with everything.

Later in the session, I went back and added two more things.

  • Get Getting Things Done done. I really do need a way to keep track and manage my tasks.
  • Get Omnifocus set up. Once I understand the approach, software should help. Jerod will also be back some time this summer, and may be able to help.

Bucket two: Writing and research. It’s time to think about getting back in touch with existing and potential projects.

I asked for (and received) permission to include class preparation here. Karla also suggested that I include the daily musings in my writing and research.

I started with the daily musings.

  • I’d like to restart the Grinnellians you should know (or know about) series. There is certainly a backlog of placeholder musings about some people.
  • I never finished all of the musings on C and Unix. I’m not teaching the class again next year, but it’s probably a good idea to get the musings written before then [11].
  • I’m planning to spend part of the summer building a Rails project that uses the Gems my students more commonly employ. It may be worth writing those as musings [12].
  • I’m almost at the point that I have a general model for my course Web sites that is built on Jekyll and Bootstrap. That could serve as the source of a series of musings, particularly as I look at overall design and accessibility, which would make it more than just a technical series.

I added the projects that I plan to do with my summer research students.

  • We are doing a research paper on the way in which who does CS is represented in online advertisements for summer code camps that are targeted at middle-school students.
  • We are taking the design of last summer’s Coding for the Arts and redesigning it to work with elementary-school students.
  • We are designing a new Data Science for Social Justice summer camp for middle-school students.
  • We are designing a new version of CSC 151 that focuses on data science.
  • We should probably write a SIGCSE paper on each of these.
  • We should take last-year’s SIGCSE poster on topics of code camps and extend it into a paper.

And then there are other things.

  • We had talked about a department-level NSF proposal last year. I should revisit that. Now if I only I could remember the topic.
  • I have plans for an NSF IUSE proposal regarding digital humanities in the introductory CS sequence.
  • I’d like to do something related to accessibility, even if it’s just reading
  • I’d like to do some Rails development, mostly so that I can teach CSC 321/22 better.
    • Alternately, I can think about changing what I teach CSC 321/22 in, in which case I should spend some time on that kind of development.

At that point, I decided that I had written enough. Interestingly, I found less anxiety here than in the home/personal stuff. The quantity builds some anxiety, but each of these are things that I am enthusiastic about [14].

Bucket three: Professional and pedagogical. Think about what you need to wrap up from spring and prepare for fall.

Wrapping up

  • I have to write final exams for CSC 151 [15].
  • I need to finish grading CSC 321.
  • I need to finish grading CSC 322.
  • I need to gather materials for Jerod.
    • I should write a letter of the form welcome to being chair; these are your responsibilities [16].
    • I have folders and folders of materials. I should put those in order, remove anything pertaining to him, and add a Manifest.
    • Karla suggested that I also write a one-page summary.
  • I need to work with our Peer Education Coordinator on rethinking or revisiting her balance of duties.
  • I should send out requests for funding for Tapia and Hopper as well as requests for student applications. I should also pre-purchase some tickets.
  • I should finish our application to NCWIT.
  • I don’t understand my other notes.

Preparing for fall

  • A lot of the preparation for fall fell under the previous bucket.
    • I need to prep for the new CSC 151.
    • I need to rethink how I teach CSC 321.
  • I need to finish building my course-web site template.
  • I also need to think about what support should be in place for our new faculty member.
  • I need to work with my department on preparing for our department workshop.

Pick five things that need to be done for fall.

That is pick five of the things you listed already as the most important.

I found it interesting that the first four things were easy to do, but the fifth was hard.

  • New CSC 151
  • Weight and health (I keep saying that and I keep failing)
  • Transition stuff for Jerod
  • Course Web site stuff

Now, there are many things that have to be done in the summer. At this point, I need to have the curricula for the camps. I need to go grade AP exams [17]. I have a bunch of workshops [18]. I need to run GSP [19]. But beyond those, what’s a good fifth?

  • Oh, that’s right, I really need to make sure that we’re set for Tapia and GHC.

After reflecting a bit more, I realized that I really need to have a system in place to keep track of all my work [20].

Out of those five: How many days or parts of days do you need to dedicate?

The new CSC 151 requires 42 days of class. Each class has a reading and lab. I also need to look at big picture issues. I have a bunch of collaborators: Another faculty member, our Peer Education Coordinator, and my summer students. It will still require about three hours of prep per day of class. So one month of half days.

I should devote at least one hour per day to my health and weight.

It will take about two full days of work to get the transition stuff together to Jerod. That can probably be distributed over a few weeks.

Setting up the general course Web materials will also take about two full days of work. That can also be distributed over a week or two, but I know that I work better on these thins in large chunks.

The various tasks related to Tapia and GHC are another two full days.

Plus there’s the work with the summer students.

My conclusion after writing all of that down: I’m screwed [21].

Remember: The semester lingers. When will you be really done with the semester?

Karla drew a nice chart of the decline in semester work and the increase [22] in summer work.

My goal is June 5.

That includes the chair transition materials to prepare for Jerod.

Can you claim time before June 5 for the summer things?

Let’s see.

  • I can do one hour per day for wellness, starting next week.
  • I can walk with Michelle after dinner, starting this week [23].
  • I should plan about four hours per day for my summer students, starting next Tuesday.
  • I should plan about one hour per day to work on the transition materials, starting next Tuesday.
  • I should find a few chunks for the course Web site stuff, starting some time afterwards.
  • I’m not sure when I will work on Tapia and Hopper.
  • Organizing myself. I should spend thirty minutes per day on reading Getting Things Done or playing with Omnifocus, starting this Thursday [24].

What’s easy to cut?

Nothing .

What’s possible for you to cut.

  • I probably don’t have to write the NSF proposals.
  • Don’t have to write all of the planned SIGCSE papers.
  • While accessibility is important to me, I probably don’t need to do a big project related to it.

Let’s consider a few other ideas.

  • Have a meeting with your family to discuss the summer.
  • Think about putting a fence around things [25].
  • Find ways to share the work with others [26].
  • Think about what momentum would be good for entering summer.

I think that’s everything we covered in the session. I found it useful. I found it equally useful to muse a bit more in writing.

Stay tuned for September when I’ll do my next session with Karla!

[1] Karla, being generous, considers anyone between tenure [2] and Senior-Faculty Status to be a mid-career faculty member.

[2] Or promotion to Associate Professor, for those in departments which do not award tenure.

[3] A loss to the faculty, but a gain to our students.

[4] If you are at Grinnell, you should attend one of Karla’s sessions or sign up for a one-on-one. If you are not at Grinnell, you should consider hiring Karla to come out and talk to your faculty. I bet she might even be willing to run a session via Skype [5].

[5] I received no compensation for that suggestions, other than the positive feelings I get from knowing (or at least hoping) that others will benefit from her expertise.

[6] Hmmm … if she’s going to write a book or workbook, does that mean she’ll be more protective of her intellectual property and will be unhappy with me including the prompts in these musings? Probably not. Her work will be much more thorough.

[7] Maybe that’s because I’m an idiot.

[8] Maybe that’s why I wrote down I’m an idiot.

[9] I write that a lot. Eventually, I’ll write it enough that I’ll actually work on my weight and health. I’m hoping that it’s this summer.

[10] shattered might be the right word. It’s usable, but it’s pretty bad.

[11] I apologize to those of you who prefer not to read technical musings.

[12] I apologize again to those of you who prefer not to read technical musings.

[14] Part of my problem is that I am enthusiastic about too many things.

[15] More precisely, I had to write exams for CSC 151. Those are now written. I’m giving the final at three different times, so I had to write three final exams. Yay!

[16] The public parts of that letter may appear as a series of musings.

[17] That didn’t fit in any of the buckets.

[18] Those also didn’t fit in the buckets. Some could probably be dropped, but I’d prefer not to drop them.

[19] The Grinnell Science Project.

[20] I added that up above, but I’m mentioning it here because that’s when I realized it.

[21] Maybe that’s why I started my notes with I’m an idiot.

[22] incline?

[23] That does assume we find time to sit down for dinner together.

[24] Yeah, it looks like I’ll still be working evenings.

[25] That’s another phrase I wrote down without completely understanding. I’ll have to reflect back on it later.

[26] I’m generally bad at sharing. But a lot is planned with my awesome summer students, so that’s good. We’ll certainly share the code camps [27]. I have colleagues and students to work on CSC 151 with. But the rest, well, that’s me.

[27] If things go well, they will even take the lead.

Version 1.0 of 2017-05-17.