Monday, March 24, 2014

MathEmperor Mobius provides advice for the new and naive, part 2

This is part 2 (obviously) of a post by MathEmperor Mobius which began this morning.

Set your boundaries and do it early in your career if you can. It is damn near impossible to do it midway through. Condition your coworkers to respect those boundaries. Reduce those pesky in-person hallway ambushes, by being the person that only handles requests if they are submitted by email. When someone sticks you with an ambush request, act as if they sent you an email when you know they didn't. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must have missed your request for that document when I was sorting through my email inbox." People can't be changed, but they can be trained a little bit. Every afternoon, frantically play with your phone in front of your coworkers, after all, you do important volunteer work racing iguanas for charity. Over time, people will ingrain that into memory. The next time you have an afternoon faculty meeting that runs late, frantically play with your phone. "Whoops, iguana go, gotta go". The association will be automatic and nobody will bat an eye. Deadweight coworkers are masters at boundary setting. They do a job poorly so they will never be asked again, and their task goes to someone else, new and naive, like you.  Their boundary has been set. Set yours. Just remember to use your powers for good instead of evil.

Don't make extra work for yourself. If you are going to go the extra mile for something, then at least make it a downhill mile.  Make exams and projects that are easy for you to grade. You can do it without sacrificing content or quality.

Stick to your classroom/course policies. For every student who appreciated and genuinely took benefit from my leniency, ten others would abuse it and would look for every way to play me and the system.  You know the type, the budding young 'lawyers' who look for every loophole in your syllabus, yet can't read or analyze an article.  Make-up work? Oh, you are just asking for your own private hell.  Don't be a softee, It is simply not worth it.

Don't make your home an extension of your office at work.  If you must, designate one tiny little corner (and only one tiny little corner)  exclusively for work stuff. You can always throw laundry over it.

Time at home is sacred. I know grading has to get done, but there is nothing worse than grading a garbage paper in bed, seconds before your head hits the pillow. And then there are the dreams......yikes.  (If the thought of student-worm creatures grabbing at you with their plant tendrils, while asking you 'what did I get on my quizzzzzzzz' through an eye socket mouth orifice, excites you, then by all means have at it.) Block off a set amount of time right before bed to do something fun, goofy, stupid, or all of the above. Clear your head, and pleasant dreams.

Leave the toxic waste at work. Don't bring it home. Family and friends may be sympathetic, and they may understand hell, but they don't necessarily understand all of the subtle details of your particular hell. Spare them that spillage.

You have to protect you. You have to honor you. You have to look out for you. That is not a crime. Remember, administration doesn't care about you, your marriage, your family, your health, or your emotional well-being. If you feel that administration likes you, then in reality, you are tolerated.
If you feel that they tolerate you, well......good luck to you.

Let the people-pleaser in you go. You don't need to be that person anymore. The person I am at 47 is so not the person I was at 37.

My final words (and spoilers) to my younger self:

You will touch those lives that you need to touch.
You will eventually quit your job, and it will be okay.
You will leave the profession, and that will be okay too.
You will get cancer in a few years, but you will beat it. 
You will have a really hot, tall, sexy oncologist. No, really.
Nothing is a waste of time. (Cliche perhaps, but true)
Take the time to reflect on your teaching experiences and learn about yourself from them. Introspection is tough, but you are able to handle 'tough'. Do the work.
Live your life. Celebrate you. You matter.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot......,
You are going to look so damn good without hair.


  1. I mentioned in an earlier post that many employers want cheap labour. Sadly, I found that out first-hand.

    After I got my B. Sc., I worked for a subsidiary of a large oil company. (It no longer exists, having disappeared during the mergers, acquisitions, amalgamations, and buy-outs that took place during the last 30 years.) Being single and unattached, I was expected to be on the job 24 hours a day, even at home. It behaved as if any free time after the office officially closed for the day was theft from the company and using that time for my purposes was disloyalty.

    I once asked what its policy about overtime was, because labour law dictated that salaried staff were allowed to have equivalent time off. The response I got was: "We are professionals here. We work unlimited hours." That would be justified if there was a pending deadline or an emergency, but, as a matter of course, it was excessive. Then again, I was expected to be constantly working towards my next promotion and be upwardly mobile in the company.

    I was gone less than a year after I started.

    Unfortunately, I encountered that same mentality in the department I taught in. Both my last department head and the assistant head believed that any free time for me was depriving the students of success. After all, I wasn't married, wasn't in a relationship with anyone, and didn't have any children. How dare I have time for *me* after the office closed?

    I wasn't entirely surprised at their thinking. My department head really wasn't interested in doing his job. He spent most of his time on his pet projects, which he only did because he desperately wanted to be promoted and play with the big kids at the institution. The ADH was, on the other hand, simply the laziest manager I ever met, actively training for retirement.

    Often, I had tasks that they were normally expected to do dumped on my desk. One reason was that they hoped I'd get mad and quit. But, another was because those were jobs they either didn't want to do or thought were beneath them. By dropping them on me, they knew that I'd do them just to get them out of the way. My mistake was that I was far too co-operative and did them too well.

    I learned the hard lesson that one should never do work that a colleague or a superior should be doing and, if forced to do so, do it well. Once that starts, it never ends because they know they can get away with it.

    Wally from "Dilbert" has it right.

    1. I recently got conscripted to be on the Rank, Tenure, and Promtions committee, because some dickhead wouldn't do it. Wouldn't you know, dickhead will be going up for promotion next year. MUUUAA-HAA-HAAAA!!!