Monday, November 14, 2011

Both/And? Neither/Nor? More notes from LTA Land

This week I have had the luxury of a four day weekend, or rather I have had four days in a row where I have been able to focus on work. What's more, I've been happy to hunker down in my little flat making pot after pot of tea and work chip away at the monstrous To Do list that haunts my every waking moment. Not since I was an MA student living alone with neither roommates nor partner have I had such a solitary and focussed weekend. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't--couldn't--work like this all weekend every weekend, but this was a rare and welcomed gift of time + space + focus = productivity. Amazing!

Looking at my list made me feel a little dizzy, and it reminded me that those of us in non-tenured spaces occupy a both/and/neither/nor kind of limbo. Let me show you my list to explain what I mean:

To Do:
-write three reference letters for students applying for SSHRC
-complete a job application
-write a guest lecture for a graduate course
-write two lectures for Monday's classes
-work on article (due December 1st)
-work on grant application (due December 2)
-edit CFP for a co-organized conference
-grade midterms
-tinker away at building/learning to build my website
-write blog post

Phew. Alright, aside from being lengthy this list has required me to code switch every time I move to another item. For example, writing reference letters for students is a privilege (alright, yes, and difficult and time consuming), a kind of paying it forward for the future of the profession. I have to admit it is odd sitting in my office chatting with a fourth year student about job prospect...for both of us. Sure, I'm on one side of the desk and the student is on the other, but I have made no secret of the fact I'm not in a permanent position. It is interesting, scary, thought provoking, and oddly a kind of relief to have students come into my office wondering how my job search is going, or asking if my contract has been renewed. I am both a faculty member and on the job market. I am neither a faculty member nor a sessional. It isn't a bad thing, this living the slash, but it is vertigo inducing sometimes. Oh yes, and tiring.*

I defended my PhD in 2008, this is my fourth academic year in a teaching position. My first year out I taught four courses in the fall, four courses in the winter, and two courses in the spring. My second year out I arrives at Dalhousie where I taught three-three-and-one. I did the same schedule last year. This year I have a bit of a reprieve from teaching (which I love, by the way. I love teaching) in that this term I'm teaching two courses. Next term I'll be in the classroom for four course equivalents and supervising graduate students. The following year is anybody's guess.

Now don't get me wrong. Life is good. Even without being in a permanent position I'm beginning to see a bit of what Heather calls the J-Curve (thank goodness). I love where I am, I love teaching, and I'm managing to get some research accomplished. But keeping all those balls in the air is difficult, and every now and then I remember that one day--maybe--the stress of job insecurity will pass. Or maybe it wont. As Bethany Nowviskie, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Afshan Jafar and others have written not only is the institution changing, the demographics of the people teaching and researching are changing. That's exciting, but it is also scary. It is a challenge to those of us in less secure positions to not give up, and it is also a challenge to those in secure positions (or more relatively secure--and I'd count myself more relatively secure than others) to keep working to make the institution work for the people, not necessarily vice versa.

Thanks to all of you readers who make that community of critically minded forward thinkers palpable on a regular basis.

And for all of you on the job market/doing sessional work or in limited and conditional limited term appointments: Courage! I see you!
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*Though yes, I feel a bit silly talking about being tired when it is mid-November and we are all tired. Nonetheless I trust you get the spirit of the post. 


5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out! Hang in there. I'm counting down the days until American Thanksgiving (we didn't get Veterans Day as a holiday; nor do we get Easter...).

    Take care.

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  2. Congratulations on a super-productive long weekend! Your massive to-do list made me tired just reading it, although I have a smaller version of my own (that didn't change much over the weekend since I shamefacedly admit that I indulged in movies, fun reading, and boot shopping). Perhaps a future post could detail some specific strategies for productivity? Have you tried the pomodoro technique, for instance? (There's even an iPhone app for it!) Whatever you're doing, it's clearly working.

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  3. Hi Vicky! That was the to do list, not the done list ;) Great idea though, I will write a post about methods.
    I'm glad you had a marvellous weekend! These things are much needed.

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  4. Erin, you continue to amaze me on a weekly basis. Whether or not the To Do List got Done, you rock! You live the slash with more poise and grace than anyone I've seen before. Hang in there and good luck with the job app!

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