Day in the Life – #dayofhighered

This morning, I woke up around 6:15am, and came across this article of a Day of Higher Ed on my LinkedIn reading list, suggesting that academics respond to a recent critique in a Washington Post editorial that academics are “underworked.”  It resonated, given my recent frustrations with managing my workload, and my feelings that my “work” as a research assistant and teaching assistant has compromised my experience as a doctoral student.  I think it’s always important to really document the “problem” so I figured I would track my day and add it to the conversation on Twitter with the #dayofhighered hash-tag.

So here goes…

Left the house around 7:40am to walk into work… arguably the most peaceful time of the day.  This morning I noticed a tremendous chorus of bird calls… at least five that I could distinguish, and perhaps some distant Sandhill cranes.  The chorus disappeared as I got closer to Michigan Avenue, filled with lots of traffic, which made me think that birds probably don’t like noisy streets any more than humans do.

8am – 10am

I spent this time developing on an online course that I administer.  The course involves producing video modules to be viewed online by coaches who are not students at Michigan State.  These videos are followed by brief assessments.  Getting the code right is critical, especially because our course management software can be tricky when it comes to embedding videos.

10am – 11:30am

Advising meeting for my doctoral program, which is combined as a meeting for the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.  Should I break down the meeting minute by minute to discuss how effective it was?  That’s hard to do.  Most of it pertained to me, and I had several comments and questions for group members.  Meetings aren’t always effective, and their nature (and very necessity) might be reconsidered as we try to mine the day for more hours, as Jason Fried argues in his cult TED talk…

…but today seemed quite prudent and necessary, and Jason Fried was not correct.

11:30am – 12:30pm

Prep for my coaching class.  Prepare for a presentation on SCORE in KIN 940, Global Sport and Development.

12:40pm – 2:30pm

Teach Principles of Coaching II.  Today’s class focused on Goal setting, the theories behind it, and the ways that coaches can employ a goal mapping strategy to help athletes.

2:30pm – 3:00pm

Walked back to the office, then Jenison Field House to teach my swimming course.

3:00pm – 4:00pm

Teach swimming course.

4:10pm – 7:00pm

Class… KIN 940, Global Sport and Development.  Discussed critical theories of development in the Global South.  Started to formulate some of my own beliefs on the best practices for sport and development programs.  Presented a 12 minute talk on SCORE, a sport for development program that operates in Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia.

7:00pm – 7:30pm

After-class discussion with two peers regarding my own theories on development.  Also discussed the ins and outs of car ownership with two other doc students who aren’t from the USA.

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Walked home, made dinner, watched a few clips from last week’s Colbert Report.

9:00pm – 11:00pm

Finished this blog post, continued coding a website for an online course (see my efforts between 8am-10am).  Prepared for tomorrow’s class in my Physical Growth and Motor Behavior course.

Commentary

I have been frustrated lately with my inability to focus on my studies due to the fact that I have many other responsibilities to attend to throughout the working day.  It’s frustrating to think of myself as a student, when in reality, my work is quite similar to that of an adjunct faculty member.  The course I am taking, Global Sport and Development, is heavy on readings from sociology, and it requires significantly more effort to wade through some of the lingo and concepts that are used quite commonly in sociology (e.g., social capital, critical theory).  While I have an immense interest in the topic, I have not been able to give the readings the due diligence they deserve.

I have done some significant rethinking to how I work, not just the time that I allot for work.  My workload has reached a point where I have had to adapt.  It’s no longer a question of giving up more weekend activities to meet demands; it is about improving the efficiency of the work that I do, and teaching myself to be happy with an effort that is not always my best, but simply “good enough.”  Maybe that is an issue of growing up.

The plus side — that I frequently tell myself, and my academic mentors frequently remind me of — is that I am going to be uniquely prepared to handle the stresses of my first academic job, when that time comes.  I take comfort in that.  But I also worry about the future of the university, in that faculty are no longer paid to think, but rather produce.  We don’t get paid to reflect on the larger meaning and impact of our work, and the work that others have done.  Perhaps because of this, we are becoming extremely efficient at producing work, but not contextualizing that work and seeing where it fits with the work of others.  That’s not what pays the bills.

For those who might criticize the work of academics — for being lazy, for complaining about being overworked — I don’t know what to say.  It’s hard for me to speculate on what workers do all day in a bank, or in retail, or selling insurance or real-estate.  I’m sure the relative amount of time spent on Facebook is similar across professions with access to computers (my Facebook time today was about 30 seconds up until right now, thanks to the wizardry of social media cross-posting and the #fb hash-tag).  My guess is that if I spent a week trailing a real-estate agent, I could find ways to help her work more efficiently, and point out time that she wastes.  But we have chosen the jobs we have because there is something we like about them, or something that makes us good at them.  To pretend to know how hard someone in another field works based on some misconceptions or stereotypes… what good does that really do?

As for the 30 minutes that it took to write this post, couldn’t I have spent that time prepping or grading?  Certainly. But I also believe strongly that reflective practice is the best way to improve whatever it is that you do for a living.  Is this not what I am paid to do?

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5 thoughts on “Day in the Life – #dayofhighered

  1. …and for those who question the value of “soft” work (i.e., reflection, thinking) vs. “hard” work (producing a tangible product), consider that the best quality products are often a RESULT OF rigorous reflection, not to be thought of as mutually exclusive of products, themselves. Consider the work of, oh, I don’t know, Einstein, Darwin, Freud, Jung, Michelangelo, Wosniak, etc. I’m pretty sure none of them had tenure hanging over their heads, but I could be wrong. Susan Cain argues a similar point on the value (gift) of introversion (i.e., intense thinking/reflection) in a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html) although she is more convincing in her book “Quiet”.

    Anyway, industrialism is ubiquitous (education included). If more products is what you want then look out, you might just get what you wish for. (hear Noam Chomsky’s thoughts on education for an “enlightening” argument on the role of education: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNAUJWJN08)

    1. Indeed, “soft work” produces the best products at a university. How can we build in time for reflection when the push is either to teach more classes, or produce more research? Do we need to learn how to reflect in shorter time-spans? Do we need to catch up to the pace at which the modern world moves? Or do we need to put the brakes on the speed of the modern world… if that is possible?

  2. OR decide what speed works best for you, align yourself with that speed, and live with the consequences. One must have control of one’s self before attempting to put the brakes on someone else. Indeed, knowing how to apply your own breaks (and drive your own car) might be just what the doctor ordered- lead by example.

  3. Then again, maybe I’m too self-determined. The other side is something like “if you’re gonna enter the game, gotta play by the rules”. And what’s wrong with a little challenge (i.e., external regulation) to help you get more out of yourself? If I’m going to go out of my way to satisfy goals that aren’t my own, though, I’d like to be compensated appropriately. In any case, I don’t think the rules are that well defined. I’ll take my chances and keep my sanity (dignity), at least for now.

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