Well, as I write this, I’m about to head off to speak at LILAC 2013 in Manchester, England! There are about 29 reasons I’m absolutely giddy over this trip (not least because it’s my first international presentation), but I wanted to give a few of you some sneak peeks and additional info about my research–think of the next few posts like the DVD special features from Lord of the Rings, but without shots of librarians in Motion-Capture suits. Today, I’m sharing some particularly memorable quotes that I gleaned from my participants.
When I was in 10th grade, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I enjoyed band, and was a decent (if not spectacular) percussionist. However, the high school had just started a new creative writing class, and several teachers were encouraging me to take it. I didn’t really need the encouragement. I loved (and still love) writing, to the point that I currently have a second semi-active blog while working full time and doing a PhD program. The dilemma was this: Band and creative writing were offered in the same time slot. I could take one, but not both. I waffled, and I thought a bit, but ultimately my course was clear. When it came time to enroll, I dropped band and added creative writing. I still remember the conversation I had with the assistant director for percussion, who was more surprised than I would have expected given my mediocre skills. He asked me why I made the shift. Continue reading
OK, I’ve been a lot quiet this summer. I could try to explain why, but it would take about 3 hours and I’m not sure most it would make sense at the end. The short version is this: On May 12, I lost an old and very dear friend. We grew away from each other slightly in recent years, in part because of geography, in part because we both were focused (in our own ways) on “growing up” and building our careers as educators rather than nourishing our friendship with each other.
Those ebbs and flows in friendships are the way of the world, I’m well aware, but that loss made me re-evaluate a lot of things (as well as reconnect closely with my two other “besties” from that early 20s social circle). Over the ensuing summer I have been rethinking a lot of things about my goals, ambition, and the need for more compassion and silliness in my life to balance out my quest for wisdom and significance. Oh, and while grappling with that I completed a 5K walk, took 9 hours over the summer, 6 plus a research project this semester, and started my new position as Associate Director on July 1. (How am I not dead?)
I’ve tried to write a few things for this site this summer, like a piece on “Why Math Education Sucks” (which I’m still noodling on here and there), but most of my Infoliterate thoughts have been on what David Allen might call the 50,000 foot level: specifically, what does it mean to make a difference as an instruction librarian, library administrator, Ph.D student, etc.? Those thoughts have been so squishy in my head that it’s really only now that they’re firm enough to commit to a published form.
The longer I live, the more it seems that most of us as individuals have very little control over which achievements or actions will “make an impact” in our lives, or in the lives of those we hope to reach. Most of us can think of personal or professional projects we care about deeply that wound up flopping, and offhanded comments we tossed off that made a profound effect on someone else’s life, for good or ill. Everything we do makes ripples, which combine and interact with other ripples, and we can never control (and only rarely understand) their full impact.
I can set goals to earn my Ph.D, become a LIS Professor or library director, teach library students how to engage effectively with the new information landscape, perform research to identify and highlight the blind spots in information literacy theory and practice, but I HAVE LITTLE TO NO POWER over what actually takes hold in the minds of others. It’s like doing a one-shot instruction session. Some days all the students will be glazed over, checking Facebook when they think nobody’s looking, no matter how charismatic and insightful the librarian is at the front of the room. Other times students are exploding with excellent questions and insights.
At least when viewed through the “lens” of this summer, this fact leads to one inescapable conclusion: Tying your self-worth into achieving a goal (or even a series of goals) is a fool’s errand. That’s not to say I don’t want to achieve big things with my life anymore—I’m just accepting that most of the variables that could lead me to publishing that seminal book that revolutionizes academic librarianship are out of my control. That’s scary to a person whose self-worth has long been tangled up in the need to “make a difference”, but it’s kind of freeing too.
That realization has also led me to look at what a “post-goal” mindset and career might look like. It seems to come back down to some sort of daily practice, where I simultaneously stay open to opportunities presented by the world while building the skills needed to seize those opportunities, whatever they may be. I’ll share some of those thoughts on a success-oriented daily practice next time, but for now I’ll just sit back and shake my head ruefully at the elegant chaos inherent in the way that one event, like a butterfly flapping its wings in Florida, has unexpectedly influenced change in so many other areas of my life and the lives of others.
All Ph.D programs, or at least all Ph.D programs designed for working people, should be cohort-based. I’m a pretty diligent and motivated student (when I can stay away from the funny pictures of celebrities on Tumblr), and I like to think I’m decent at my coursework. However, I can think of two occasions in the past year where I might have dropped out, or at least slowed my pace, had I not had a cohort-mate to vent with, and had I not known that my departure would leave a hole in a group of friends I had come to care for very much. In this post I’ll share what I think are the benefits of the cohort, and suggest ways that students and faculty can prevent or address common issues that keep cohorts from working as smoothly as they might.
Benefits of the cohort
Built-in support system
If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, doctoral work is stressful. Having not ever tried grad school while not working full-time (I also worked 40 hours a week during my MLIS due to those pesky light bills) , I can only assume that juggling a Ph.D with a day job is even more intense. To make matters worse, when you start a Ph.D your free time largely vanishes. Most doc students cut their socializing to the bare essentials. I’m getting out a bit more now that I’ve gotten my bearings. However, for the first year I really only hung out with my husband, a few very close friends, and my family. That meant my cohort became a very important aspect of my social life. They also “get it”. While I have the most amazingly supportive husband who is interested in and supportive of my work, and has even taken over laundry and dishes for the duration (!), he isn’t undergoing the lived experience. Ditto my work colleagues and other friends. The cohort understands.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses—for instance, I’m good with social theory, but was happy to escape Calc 1 with a C. I helped my friends earlier in the program during our theory heavy courses, and now that we’re hitting the quant research sequence, they’ll probably wind up nursing me through all these icky numbers in the stats classes. Plus, sometimes you’ve got more going on at certain times than others, and group members are there to pick up the slack. (this can also be a drawback, which I’ll discuss in a sec)
Get out of your comfort zone
Being an academic librarian, my closest colleagues are librarians. Oh, I have good relationships with a lot of faculty, but I really don’t know much about life in the administrative/staff realms, except to the extent it touches our lives directly. My cohort, on the other hand, encompasses people from community colleges, regional universities, a flagship branch and a private liberal arts school. In addition, our job descriptions include just about every possible administrative department or experience level, and a few faculty members to boot. Hearing each others’ perspectives have given us all a greater understanding of the bigger picture, and we’ve already identified many ways we can help each other succeed.
That said, it’s not all sunshine and roses—I have an awesome cohort, but cohorts can be toxic just as easily as any other group. Here are some common issues that come up, and how to deal with them.
Like any group, Drama can evolve in a cohort. There is only one cure for Drama, and that is maturity mixed with a common goal. You may think one or more of your cohort partners are insane or infuriating, but when the rubber hits the road, you need to be prepared to set that aside and work together. Also…don’t date anyone in your cohort till you’re ABD. Fortunately that’s not an issue in our group, but I’ve heard tales that this often leads to Bad Things.
Seeing the faculty as the enemy
Especially in this age of accountability, in most cases your professors genuinely want you to succeed and will help you to the best of their ability. That’s not to say they’ll make it easy on you. Understand they’re working in your best interests, and take things in the spirit they’re intended. Also, by the point you enter Ph.D work, it should be obvious that Professors are People Too. They have failings, frailties, are overworked, and just plain screw up sometimes. While you should expect a quality education, also understand that by the time you reach Ph.D, you will be interacting with professors on a more-or-less equal level. Lower your expectations of them at the same time you raise your own expectations of yourself.
Lazy study mates
Fortunately, this is another one I have only heard about, not experienced. However, there is a surprising amount of group work in a doctorate, and one weak link can cause a lot of damage. While everyone can and does have a bad semester where others pick up their slack, there comes a point where you must be ruthless in the service of your education as well as the greater good of your cohort. Speak to them privately, quietly refuse to be on their teams, or simply have a chat with their advisor or your instructors. Once is ok, twice is coincidence. But as soon as laziness becomes a pattern, you have to find a way to nip it in the bud.
So, those are my tips! Hope you enjoyed. This is looking like it’s going to be a great summer, and I’ll be back “soon” as class and research project events warrant. I’m working on an IRB right now for a project that I will (hopefully!) get a chance to present at ACRL 2013, so I hope to share that experience in a forthcoming post.
After an insane (but productive) fall semester where some like-to-do projects (like Infoliterate) had to go on hiatus, I’m rested, healthier, and ready to take on another semester! I only have 3 hours of a “real” class this term, taking Qualitative research II with Dr. B, one of my favorite profs. Though I’m lucky—just about all of my professors thus far have qualified as “favorites”. My other three hours will be devoted to independent study with my advisor Dr. K, where I will be putting together a lit review and methodology for my dissertation pilot study, and submitting it in proposal form to speak at the 2013 ACRL conference. If all goes as planned I’ll be gathering data in the summer and fall, and write up the final paper over the holidays. And worst come to worst, if I don’t get into ACRL I’ve had my eye on some intriguing looking conferences in the UK… Aside from that, my time’s occupied with work stuff, family life, and miscellaneous new personal projects like knitting: I picked up the needles after a several year hiatus and have become addicted again.
I’m keeping it short today but I wanted to recommend that everyone take a look at Alison Head’s awesome webinar on the latest Project Information Literacy research: the PIL findings informed a lot of my Qual 1 work, and will be a major touchstone in my independent study this spring. The replay of today’s talk isn’t up as of this writing (4:15 on Tuesday, waiting for class to start), but I imagine it will be by the time this article posts. I live-tweeted my thoughts and a summary of the high points at @oklibrarian, and will hopefully have time to critique the session in-depth in my next post. Which brings me to a final point—during the spring and summer I put a lot of pressure on myself to post here 1-2 times a week, which eventually led to writer’s block and burnout. While I hope to return to a weekly-ish schedule, I’m only going to post articles when I have something worth saying, and my other projects allow. This will make for more irregular volume, but hopefully higher quality of content. Thanks, comment if you feel moved, and I’ll see you again soon!
In addition to the start of the semester and the experiences that brings, it’s been a busy week on a few non-academic fronts. As is my wont when Big Things are happening, I’ve been musing on many issues related to my professional interests and where I want to go, and how they fit into my larger life plan. For instance, I’ve found that I truly enjoy working for a small school in ways that I didn’t really expect when I started here. But at the same time, I find myself driven to think and write about big issues that, according to conventional wisdom, can only be addressed by the Right People with the Right Pedigree on the faculty of the Right School.
For a long time I accepted both assumptions as given, and as contradictory. I don’t want to inject myself into the pressure cooker of an Elite School, either as librarian or as LIS faculty. I can’t bring myself to take those kinds of political games seriously—it’s the same reason I was an utterly horrible corporate drone. And yet, for some of those same reasons I want to use my skills to reach a greater understanding of how students do research, how those practices help or hinder their learning process in the classroom and beyond, and how libraries can evolve to help students succeed. How can I (or you) resolve this conundrum in ways that are both personally and professionally satisfying?
I was working the late shift last night, and spent some time catching up on my sorely neglected “Read/Review” folder where all my listservs and RSS feeds go to die. A few screens down the folder, I was delighted to find that Madeline Li had finally written the final (?) article in her series on being denied tenure at an R1. It was as near to a happy ending as is possible in academe, as she settled happily into a teaching-intensive position at a rural college. She even found that the lack of serious publishing pressure actually freed her to be a more prolific and creative researcher than she had ever been while on the publish-or-perish hamster wheel. The comments were particularly good on this article, and one in particular by Richard Tabor Greene (who I promptly googled and found quite interesting) addressed this conundrum:
We hang our shingle at a local place but we work at conferences, around the world, and on panels and editorial boards. To keep productive you need the local audience that you can respect and the global audience that can respect you. It is easy to play in both courts at once. I have probably never met anyone happy being entirely local… . Everyone in my limited circle and world I have known who is happy is plugged into some local audience they respect and also plugged in to some global audience that they respect and that respects them. They alternate like yo-yos between these poles.
So enjoy being set locally and celebrate it by coming up with globally powerful things [which] local loves help you generate. The local if deeply enough engaged can amaze the global and vice versa.
And the Light bulb went off, though in fairness it’s been flickering for a while. It is not only possible but desirable to have a career that is both global and local. By immersing myself into serving a community that’s actually representative of the Typical American University, I can learn lessons that all of us will find useful, and can then share those lessons with others. In that conversation I learn from their experiences, and we all make our own colleges better for the global conversation. While there are two or three other places in the world I could happily live (all of which have never seen 115 degree summers) I don’t HAVE to go charging off to Nationally Prestigious University to make an impact. And that’s true for everyone reading this. Wherever you are, what changes can you promote in your own community? How can you take the lessons learned in your research, teaching, or practice and share them with others in the wider world?
The August Intersession has become my de facto annual review. The main summer library workshops are done, School is still a week or two away, I’m probably about to write or just wrote my yearly wrapup for the library’s annual report, and so I find it a good time to take a look at my GTD higher altitudes and make plans for the coming year. You don’t need to be a David Allen Fanatic to find this type of thing useful, but I do like his particular altitude metaphor for personal strategic planning. Here’s what he says, with a few twists of my own. Note that while Received Wisdom is that you start at the bottom and work up, I think for long-range planning purposes you can do these in either order, or hop around. I started at 50K this year, but that’s in part because of the Massive Life Change of the past year (read: Starting my Ph.D) and the impact it’s made on my goals and interests.
50,000 foot level: Purpose and Values
Per David Allen, the highest level of planning relates to your life purpose, and the values or ethics you live by in getting there. Stephen Covey argues for defining your mission as well, though unlike Allen he strongly suggests you determine your mission first, not last. However, both seem to argue that you will be able to sit down one afternoon, think deeply, and generate a Profound Life Mission that will essentially remain static for the rest of your life. After being a pretty hardcore time management nut for almost 10 years (First Covey, then GTD), I couldn’t DISAGREE more. While it is important to have a reasonably static purpose in order to serve as a roadmap, mine’s changed a lot over 10 years, especially during my 20s. This is not because of any major personality change, but due to natural growth and the simple fact that as you get older, you understand yourself better.
My core values have remained a lot more static, but wording has changed a lot. The biggest change is that both have gotten substantially shorter. If you can’t express your mission in 10 words or less, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Also, don’t try to capture every least little nuance of your core values—just pick the 3-5 most important tenets of your code of ethics.
40,000 feet: 5-Year Vision
What will your life to look like in 5 years if you are following the above vision? What do you want to be doing, where do you want to live, what kind of social life or personal development do you want? How are your finances? What about your family life? Write answers to these questions and feel free to blue-sky it—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a stretch goal. I always revisit these annually—some years I write out a “day-in-the life” type of narrative; this year I jotted down about half a dozen long-range goals, each roughly correlating to one or more of my Areas of Responsibility (more on those below).
30,000 feet: Mid-range goals
So, you’ve established (in vague terms at least) what you want to do with your life, and how that will look in 5 years. As we descend in altitude in the model, the questions become more concrete. The 30,000 level of planning asks: what do you need to accomplish in the next 1-2 years to advance along the path to your 5 year vision? Each of the facets of your vision will probably have at least one or two subgoals that can be started now, and revisited quarterly or so (The post-finals lulls in December and May are good times, ditto the August annual review time). These, and the level that follow, will be very helpful in framing your tactical decisions about which projects to take on and which ones to jettison.
20,000 feet: Areas of Responsibility
Everyone wears different hats in life. Mine, listed in rough order of importance, are
- Friend/Family member
- Grad Student
- Adventurer (Can be travel, but not necessarily)
Whatever other hats you wear, if self-care (what Covey calls “Sharpening the saw”) isn’t at the top of your list, you’ve got a problem. This encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual work you do daily to keep yourself sane and healthy. Most of the others are pretty self-explanatory. My Husband Kevin and I are focusing pretty heavily in the next year or two on transitioning into hard-core retirement saving, so I’m wearing the Investor hat often enough for it to qualify as an AOR. I also crave adventure—every year or so I seem to need to go on a big trip, volunteer with a group I’m unfamiliar with, or otherwise get out of my comfort zone. Otherwise, I get twitchy and bored, regardless of how much stuff’s on my plate. In addition, a big part of my mission is to learn and experience as much as humanly possible, so by making that an AOR, I will always have at least one project going that forces me to try something new.
Below 20,000 feet are the tactical levels, projects and tasks, and they merit their own post. The important takeaway is not that you should follow exactly this process in exactly this manner, but to understand this as one of many possible frameworks for your personal strategic planning (assuming of course, you even want to live your life according to a strategic plan!) Each level informs the others as you can imagine, as a change in job responsibilities, marital status, or even your desired goals will have repercussions up and down the model. For me at any rate, understanding where I’d like to go (and why) relieves a lot of stress that I am making the best choices possible for myself, my husband, my friends, my coworkers, and my students. In addition, when things change, it can help a lot to have a starting point and an understanding of your ultimate goals.