Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Academic Dreams: Refocused, Yaro Style

Our Spring Break just ended, and we are starting a new quarter this week. This means (1) students returning a week late wondering why they aren't allowed to make up work they have missed all week; (2) students who returned on time not making it to class because "[insert stupid excuse that isn't really an excuse but just wastes three minutes of my time]"; and (3) the return of the dreaded stress dream.

These dreams are all some variation on the same out-of-control theme: I cannot get to where I'm supposed to be to administer a test or begin a class; I cannot find my way out of one building to get to the next one so I can begin class across campus; someone has replaced all of our desks with spindly music stands on which we are supposed to balance textbooks; someone has moved my whole office into the custodial storage area (the fact that it all fits so much better in there makes me want to weep when I awaken). I will stop here because these dreams are the same that have recurred over the past two decades.

What strikes me most, as I contemplate these nighttime panicky episodes, is that none of my dreams are as bad or as horrific as my reality:

In none of my dreams are the students half literate.

In none of my dreams are students outright lying to me about why they couldn't finish an assignment or attempting to coerce me into changing a grade.

In none of my dreams are students claiming that I am the worst professor they've ever had and that they're earning A's in all of their other classes.

No one is complaining to my chair or filing grievances against me for turning them in for plagiarizing their essays.

In none of my dreams are the parents of my most problematic advisee demanding that I meet with them to explain why their son is on academic probation (the fact that they got him a prescription for medicinal marijuana should be their first clue).

In none of my dreams are the administrators at fault.

I simply cannot find my way to my classroom, or my classroom has been repurposed with music stands. How completely awful is that?

In my next dream, should I be unable to find my classroom, I believe I will channel Yaro and simply wander off to gaze at the sky outside instead of panicking that someone is missing a test. In my dream, I will know  that even if I make it to the test on time, they're likely to fail it anyway. I will choose, instead, to have a Yaro moment of breezeful bliss.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. Today I learned that my university administration has come up with something that I'd never have dreamed of: they've decided they won't do travel advances. Just what a bunch of students need: mine won't be able to go to professional conferences of any kind ever again, students being people famously short on cash.

    1. My SLAC doesn't help with student travel at all. We always have to do fundraisers (car washes, book sales, etc.) to raise money for them to attend conferences. It's a sad state of affairs when we adopt a business model! Now my stress dreams will likely revolve around raising money!

    2. But my so-called university is refusing to give travel advances to students even from external grants, including my NASA grants. What's going to happen when NASA finds out about this? Chances are good it will mean no more grants from them.

    3. Doesn't the uni get the grant money in chunks in advance of you spending it for your study? Meaning, they've already got it to "advance" to the student?

      I'm guessing some student(s) got the advance and then didn't go on the trip, so now the uni is treating them all like prodigal sons.

    4. Ogre: Quite right, it isn't even the university's money in the first place: it's NASA's.

      None of my students have ever received advances and not gone on the trips. The problem is that the university has decided to acknowledge that it's too lazy to do what other universities do. Wow, THAT's bad!

    5. Frod, re. your earlier comment: NASA should find out about this, preferably from a current PI at your institution (hint). As you suggest, what should then happen is that an admin at your U will get a sternly worded letter from a NASA program director to the effect that if this policy is implemented, no more NASA grants to your U. (From the admin's point of view: goodbye to all that overhead money.)

    6. Peter K: I'm working on this. I'll confess it took me a couple days to get over being stunned by the sheer idiocy of it. Again, I would never have dreamed it possible.

    7. The university admin does not see (or doesn't care about) the irony and/or hypocrisy of them getting a big fat advance from NASA (which they get to bank and earn interest on) AS WELL AS a substantial up-front payment (overhead) expressly to cover (among other things) the costs of holding and meting the money to execute the goals of the grant, but then when requested to cough up a few sheckels of that money (it's not theirs, they're just holding it for a friend), they claim "that's not how it's done." It does indeed take time to get over the numbness resulting from the vigorous facepalming in this case.

      My institution will book and pay for the student's travel and hotel in advance but tries not to front the food money. Students can usually deal with that on their credit cards, but if really pressed, I'd think we'd have no problem fronting the standard per diem to a cash-poor student; it's the same institutional effort whether it's reimbursed after or before the trip.

  2. Your dreams are more interesting than mine. My academic stress-dreams usually involve my having forgotten to teach a class (not just once, but for a whole semester). Or I've forgotten to take a class (or to get my high school diploma, which for some reason needs to be finished despite my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.).

    On the other hand, none of my real-life headaches are quite as bad as yours (or Frod's) right now. At least I was able to tell the student who wrote me seeking permission to miss class for a "family trip" during the second-to-last week of the semester (during a semester when we lost a lot of time to weather-related problems) that it was up to hir group, since that's a group-work day (and the group members will be grading each others' contributions the next week, a fact of which I reminded hir). Otherwise, the main problem is disappearing students, who may prove problematic eventually, but aren't bothering me much at the moment (though it's clear that some who should have disappeared permanently -- or at least for the rest of the semester -- as of the last special-drop date didn't -- hence the foreboding of coming hassles based on their apparent illusion that they can still pass the class).

    1. This week was particularly rough because it was Week 1. Next week, I think, will be better. :)

      And I hope your dreams continue to not be creative. :)

  3. I rarely dream (or should I say, never remember my dreams) these days. I fall asleep about 30s after saying good night, and sleep deeply and without interruption until the alarm goes off seven hours later (no pills). I wonder if that's unusual. My courses are going well, I have a good group of grad students and the admins are taking a year off from harassing me. I'm sure they'll get back to it soon enough (admins who lost a fight don't forget.) And what Cassandra said about disappearing students--oh, that deserves an entire new post.

    I'm sorry you're having stress dreams. I feel lucky to be on a semester calendar, this way I have to get used to new class personalities only twice a year. .

  4. I consider the amount of dreaming to be a measure of the quality and sufficiency of sleep. Too many dreamless nights means that I'm short on sleep and my brain is probably not at its fullest when awake. My dreams (the ones whose general topic or details I remember) usually involve unlikely combinations of current and past experiences, as if my brain is re-arranging the filing cabinet to fit a few more folders in and reading some of the old and new files in the process. I think this is consistent with what is thought to be the neurological purpose of sleep. Some of these turn into stress dreams, such as arriving at work with no pants on (if I act real natural, maybe nobody will notice) or climbing the stairs that get too close to the improperly sloped ceiling (I always wake up before I can squeeze through the slit at the top), but I am mercifully spared from too many of these.

    As I ease towards dotage, what afflicts me lately is my tendency to awake partway through the night with my brain running full speed. I invariably and involuntarily run through a litany of things I should have done but can no longer do, things I should have been doing and can still do but I will now have to work harder on because of previous inattention, and things I've got plenty of time to do but can't get to because of that second thing. I'm training myself to let these things go in the interest of getting back to sleep, such that I can more effectively deal with them when upright, but it's a serious challenge.