Thursday, February 07, 2019

All the feels

This is, in my usual mode of "better out than in," going to be kind of rambly and complainy.

It's post-tenure-review time. The way my department works, we are on three-year evaluation schedules. This means that there is one year out of four when none of these are happening; the rest of the time, we have either two to three people to evaluate, OR two people to evaluate plus our own packet to prepare.

I hate it. I hate it like burning. It makes me feel bad about myself EVERY TIME and yet at the same time it feeds my growing cynicism about the American work place.

I read a colleague's packet today, to be ready for Monday's meeting. It didn't take me long because he is excellent: he literally does everything well. Lots of grants, lots of publications, high degree of rigor in specialized classes, lots of service. He is the advisor for all the students (I have almost no advisees, and I feel kind of bad about that).

The secretary commented: "Didn't take you long to read that!*" and I responded "Yeah, well, it's [Colleague], there is literally nothing bad about him"

(*which also sets off alarm bells for me: are people seeing me not take this seriously enough?)

And yeah, I feel bad: yes, I've published, but only two papers in the past three years, and I have no grants. I'm sort of working on a paper right now but haven't been doing much recently on it, and am waiting to hear back from my research student when she has her analyses done.

(And yes, having research students is, at least campus-wide, a bit exceptional, but Colleague has 'em too).

And I just feel like: I don't hold a candle to what he's doing. I know exactly where I will get dinged: no grants, too few advisees, probably still not enough service though I'm now on a campuswide Council in addition to a committee.

And part of it makes me despair: I will never be good enough. I will never meet the standards that are set.

And this is where I start to get angry: The standards are so variable and so changeable that OF COURSE you never meet them. That's the point. Every time you do this you will get dinged on something; they are looking for your weakest area to point that out to you. And then, you work on that area, and you let something else lapse (more service, in my case, pushing out some of the scholarly productivity) so there is a NEW THING you are "bad**" at so you can get dinged on that next time. Lather, rinse, repeat

(** "Bad" by my standards of bad: as in, deserving of even mild criticism)

Apparently it's not allowed to say, "You're doing fine, keep on keepin' on" which is what I want to hear MORE THAN ANYTHING and the fact that I will never hear it from this's like WHYYYY.

I mean, I know why: someone well above the department level is doing this perhaps so that we will all be slightly off-guard and uncomfortable, worrying about things, and we'll happily comply with more work being given to us, because, hey, we don't want to look unproductive.

I know someone who is talking about taking retirement earlier than maybe planned just to avoid doing this whole thing too many more times. (As it is, I have, I think, three more rounds MINIMUM, five if I stick it out to age 65 or 66).

And I know, I know: the standard advice some friends will give me: Get a counselor to help you deal with this, this is you being a perfectionist and wanting praise that you will never get***

(*** and my Inner Critic goes: "Because you don't deserve it.")

And yeah, maybe. But I don't have time for another "hobby" right now. (Honestly: the thought of having to go and pick up my usual prescriptions every month now, because of changes in our insurance, instead of every three months, about undoes me and makes me wonder: could I just ask my pharmacy to give me the whole three months at a go, and I just pay out of pocket for it? It would almost be worth it to me, considering that both my meds are generics that aren't very costly.)

What I really need, though, I suspect, is a (to use a nicer euphemism than the usual word used) dorodango polisher.

(dorodango is a Japanese art form where a ball of what is essentially mud is smoothed and polished until it's shiny and pretty. Yes, you can literally polish, if not a turd, something turd-adjacent)

Yeah. Now I'm wondering: is there someone I could hire, confidentially and on a short term basis, and bring in my CV and list of accomplishments, and have them rework them for me so it sounds "better" than what I would write up? I tend to be.... a little too honest about my failures, and a little too up-front about what I haven't done, and I have had people tell me I downplay my accomplishments, though again my Inner Critic sneers at that possibility)

But yeah. It makes a tremendous amount of additional work for faculty nearly every year (and it gets worse: some of my colleagues have got called to serve on committees in other departments, smaller than mine). And for someone like me it's sheer torture. I know, I know, I have to approach it as Yet Another Dumb Adult Game I Have To Play but I'm not quite there yet.

Or, is there any other advice? I mean, short of getting a counselor or, I don't know, starting to drink heavily, because I think that would really be counterproductive.

The other thing that makes me low-level angry and sad is that a lot of things important and valuable to me, there is no check-box for them. I found out some of the volunteer work I do literally counts for nothing in post-tenure review, the only "service" that counts is on-campus service or things liked editorships or giving talks strictly about your field of research to certain groups. And of course none of the things I do outside of school count for anything, and if anything, if people saw them, their advice to me would probably be: drop those things. Stop playing the piano, stop knitting, stop doing any work at church, and use that time to work on your teaching or research instead. And that makes me profoundly sad - that a lot of the things i value most are literally worthless to this process, and yet I can't just say 'forget this process' because I need to pass it on some level to keep my job.

And it frustrates me because this was instituted not because *I* or anyone in my department was slacking, but because apparently someone somewhere else was, and instead of them being confronted, we now all get thrown in our faces every three years how we haven't devoted 110% of our beings to campus work, and how we need to Be Moar Better Now.

I get that I need to change my attitude to this whole thing because I can't get the thing to change, but I'm not there yet. Maybe I'll get there some time, I don't know. But I wish I had some reliable gauge of my self-worth that wasn't....this thing.


Barn Owl said...

We have post-tenure review every 5 years, and apart from a few people who love to sit in judgment of others, everyone loathes it. It's performed at the department level, but there are university-wide standards for teaching, research, clinical, and service activities, published in the Handbook of Operating Procedures. I'm up for review this year, so I used these standards to organize my summary statement, which goes to the evaluation committee. This way they have no excuse to miss something listed in my eCV, or to pretend they don't understand something related to curriculum development, innovative teaching methods, or service with student organizations. Our eCV software is utterly craptastic, but that's not the fault of the faculty ... we just have to make sure that the committee understands what we've done during the review period, and that they can't claim that they missed something because it was improperly listed in the eCV or whatever. I spent a weekend writing up my summary statement and organizing it according to the HOP, but I think it was worth it.

Kim in Oregon said...

You might check out if you are serious about getting assistance on you ptr stuff. She has a lot of experience working with a range of people in academia. I know her tangentially through her partner.

Also, as someone who has been in therapy on and off for the past decade, it is certainly not a hobby. People (including me) experience significant change in how they see the world. There's only so much support that you can get online and the work with a professional therapist has the potential to change your life.

purlewe said...

My I talk about polishing.... poop? It is one of my favorite mythbuster episodes. and it references the Japanese word you discussed.

4.5 minutes of polishing... poop.