10 April 2015

Feeling successful

This is sitting on my desk.

The inside says:

To celebrate the outstanding UTPA authors who have published scholarly works or been awarded major research grants in the past year.

It’s next week. I’m not going. There are more interesting things I could do. Trivia night at the pub, the Face-Off finale, cheap movie night... But most importantly, I’m not going because it doesn’t make me feel good about what I achieved.

I got thinking about what makes me feel successful after reading this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (my emphasis):

For some of us, it’s not that we are afraid to lean in. It’s that we have jumped in head first and are barely treading water even when we are considered “successful.” It’s not that my success has come at the expense of family or that my career advancement has been stifled by raising a family. It’s that my success in academe is simply not the kind of success that I envisioned for myself. Success should feel good, make you beam with pride, feel as if all your hard work was worthy of something bigger. I envisioned, and frankly deserve, a type of success in which the next panic attack isn’t just around the corner and in which supportive spouses don’t feel like they must resort to ultimatums to cultivate a meaningful family life.

An institutional dinner doesn’t make me feel successful. If I go, I’ll just be annoyed.

First, this event isn’t for people who published a lot of papers. Oh no. “Scholarly works” is defined here as books and book chapters. That’s not the major way people in the sciences communicate their work. In fact, book chapters a good way to bury your work in science. So all my colleagues who are kicking ass writing publications... too bad. No dinner for you.

Second, that it includes people who get grants is a reminder of that my institution values money for its own sake, rather than focusing on the new knowledge that we’re supposed to be generating with the money. If you want to reward people who got grants, great. Getting a grant is hard. But don’t call it an “author’s recognition and reception”; call it an “author’s and fundraisers recognition and reception”

Third, how do you get invited to this event? By self identification. The institution can’t even be bothered to check our annual folders, our CVs that I’ve sent forward multiple copies every year, it seems, or the “digital measures” system they put in place to be able to keep track of what people are doing. No, they have to email deans and chairs to ask their faculty, “Who put out a book or a chapter in the last year?”

Nope. That invitation didn’t make me feel “celebrated.” It make me feel like a cog in an institutional public relations machine.

But there was something that made me feel successful recently. It was easy to pick out. My department chair was in the doorway of my office, and we were talking about something, and he said something like, “I noticed that you’ve been kicking ass at research lately.”

That one sentence felt really good.

It felt good because it was personal, face-to-face, from a colleague I like and trust, unsolicited, and not in response to any self-promotion I was doing. That was so much better than any institutional dinner shindig.

External links

A hockey mom seeks tenure

1 comment:

EngineeringProf said...

I completely agree with the frustration of constantly having to self identify and promote. My place is constantly asking for nominations for awards at every level. How hard can it be to flip through our annual reports or CVs or Google Scholar to see what we have been up to and make a decision? Why do I have to write yet another set of letters of rec for my colleagues and provide CVs for internal awards?