Monday, October 17, 2011

Career angst, woo hoo!

I had a bit of a meltdown last night after a difficult weekend.  Ryan was out of town Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon; he went to the Texas Rangers game with his dad and had a wonderful time.  It looked like an exciting game even to me, and I don't "get" baseball, but the kids were out of sorts and grouchy with him gone.  Wes had trouble sleeping (which is, sadly, becoming routine).  James has discovered screaming as an attention-getting mechanism.  Charlie was alternately moody and stubborn and generously helpful and sweet, which made my hot and cold emotions toward him confusing and frustrating.  Wes has three potty accidents at church on Sunday.

In addition to all of my normal life-with-three-kids frustrations, I got some scary news from a friend that her husband and son were involved in a serious car accident (everyone is going to be fine).  It was overwhelming.

And as I normally do when I am overwhelmed, I spent my evenings in a vegetative state on the couch, TV on, Facebook open.  And when I do that, I inevitably feel guilty about all the things I should be doing instead--the kitchen, the laundry, the Halloween costumes, the birthday party preparations.  And then I feel even worse.

But the thing that's been on my mind all week is a paper I've been trying to prepare for submission FOREVER.  My co-author had the paper for a year (a busy year for both of us that involved James's birth and a new class, so I wasn't in a position to work on it anyway) and never looked at it, so I planned a trip to go up to his office and meet with him in person to finalize the paper.  He agreed and we set a date, October 25.  Then last week he sent me a list of concerns and a marked up version of the paper.

It was exactly what I needed to have to be able to move forward.  I don't have the experience to edit my own work well and I have always trusted him as an editor and reviewer.  On the other hand, he is very thorough and the list of things the paper needs (and it IS what the paper needs, I have no complaints about his necessary criticism) was LONG and included reading and including a handful of references that I missed.  In addition to the embarrassment of missing those references, the whole thing just makes me feel defeated.

Reason number one: I do not have enough time.  I have childcare for ten hours a week.  Six of those hours are spent in class.  Two of those hours are spent commuting.  In addition to the class-time responsibilities, those of you who teach know that there is grading, office hours, and responding to student emails.  Obviously, I do not have enough childcare for all of those things, but I can usually close the gap by occasionally grading in front of the TV at night.  I don't love doing that, but grading is a fairly mindless activity that doesn't take very long for this particular course.

However.  I most certainly do not have time for other academic activities, like publishing, that I feel are important to keep my "career" moving forward.  That is a problem.  I estimate that the current paper I am working on would require a week or more of focused, full-time work to get the next draft ready.  "Focused" work is not really my specialty right now.  I am not able to work full-time right now.

Obviously I could pick away at this paper in the evenings after the kids go to bed and we've cleaned up the kitchen and maybe spent a few minutes talking to one another.  I could probably sneak in a couple of hours a day that way at the expense of sleep (which leads to a whole host of other problems), hobbies, and fun things like TV shows and talking to friends online.  Obviously that is one solution.  But is it a long-term solution?

And that's not even considering the fact that I am EXHAUSTED by that part of the day--not ready to dive into a fifteen-page paper.  By nine o'clock I can barely get through a page of a Jennifer Weiner novel, let alone "the Tieleman reference" that I need to include here, here, and here.

I can't add much childcare without earning more money, and full-time academic work, if I even wanted to go that route, does not appear to be available anytime soon in our current location.  And we really, really like it here (except for our god-awful summer weather).

Ryan and I talked about all of this in detail last night and I'm going to try working an hour a night, however painful that might be.  I am not going to get anything accomlished by alternately lying around doing nothing and then complaining about how all I ever do is lie around doing nothing, after all.  He works most nights too, so it'll be no different from undergrad, where we got to know each other in the library over our textbooks.  And I will try to develop a career, one paper or one proposal at a time.  Fortunately I have about ten years until I'll be ready for a full-time job.  I just hope that my suspicions, that the only option for success in this field is total dedication, are wrong.


Sarah said...

What about a tiny bit of childcare? Like 3 more hours where you lock yourself in your bedroom (no commute!) and ONLY write? I suck at working in the evenings, but I can do dumb stuff like grading. Can you give yourself 45 minutes a week at work to only write? How about 3 hours every Saturday morning from the second you open your eyes until like 9:30? Still plenty of time for family fun day. You may be able to eek out a full work day a week in stolen hours. This is a problem I know too well, my friend. Good luck!

Alyssa said...

It's a tough balance, that's for sure. I agree with Sarah - could you get another 2-3 hours of childcare a week, just until this paper is finished up?

And, you simply wanting to work on this paper while teaching AND having three boys at home shows your total dedication to the field :)

Brooke said...

Have you read Wendy Belcher's book _Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks_? (My apologies if I've already mentioned it you--I'm like an evangelical about it.) One of the most important things she says in the book (and one that I always need to see in print) is that if you write a little bit everyday (even 15-30 minutes a day) it will make a difference.

I think your schedule with the kids sounds totally overwhelming, so you have my sympathy. It sounds like you're doing a great job at every part of your life, but I understand wanting to keep things fresh in your academic career. I guess what I'm saying is that if an hour a night is too much, do 30 minutes. I'm amazed at what I can get done in 30 minutes if I'm totally focused and not exhausted. And check out Belcher's book--it sounds so lame but it was a huge help to me.

Kim said...

Hey Becca,

I too heavily rely on stolen hours. If at all possible, make yourself a to do list for the article revisions -- write every little thing down so nothing is in your head. Then, focus on them only ONE at a time. I find when I do this, I often figure something out at random points during the day by "thinking on the back burner", when I'm working my unpaid job. ;) (Last week, I had a figured out a problem during my 10 minutes of shower/dress time and another day while co-oping at the preschool!) I use a to-do list program that is both on my computer and phone, so I use that to write everything down. (It is "Things" for Mac, and it's not free, but has been worth every penny for me! You could also carry a notebook; I did this before I knew about the program.)

Do not beat yourself up about any deadlines, this one is not written in stone (unlike for grant applications). Just tackle each thing one at a time and before you know it, you will almost be finished with revisions.

I think many years from now, you will have a great career and will be proud of your job and what you've accomplished, even if it's by an unconventional route!

Rima said...

That sounds like a good plan, but don't beat yourself up too much if you can't always stick to it! Remember that your kids are still very young and things will only get easier, there will be more time when they are in school and can occupy themselves better. I promise. I know that you need to keep things moving career-wise, but I think you are doing everything right!

CP said...

You are so amazing. Three kids, part time job, busy husband, and you are still working on publishing stuff?!?! My hero! I hope it all works out!

Anonymous said...

As a full time academic, I agree with some of what others have said about 15-30 minutes of time being huge. you may not see it now, but once you dive into the paper, a few minutes of focused work a night will get it done more rapidly than you can imagine.

A. said...

Just wanted to chime in on the encouragement - I think the way you are handling a busy family life and a part-time academic career is really inspirational! Neither of those jobs alone are easy, handling them both at the same time is nothing short of super hero territory. Goodness, you have a BABY (not to mention two other kids)! And you're writing grants and papers! Hats off to you!

It probably all seems especially overwhelming now because you just got that feedback you've been seeking, and the workload seems daunting. But hopefully if you can chip away at it a little here and there, you'll find a comfortable pace and place with that side of your life.

I loved the suggestion of trying to do a decent chunk early one weekend morning. Tag off on the kids on Saturday, work until 9 am or so, and spend the rest of the day with your family (and feeling virtuous for all the good sciency stuff you got out of the way first).

Good luck - this mysterious "work/life" balance I have heard talk of (it must exist somewhere, right?) is elusive and HARD, but I'm positive you'll work it all out.

Kyla said...

I can sympathize. The sh!t is hitting the fan over here with KayTar and between dealing with that, agonizing over that, and keeping up with my actual coursework, I feel like I'm losing my mind. I dropped out of an extra-curricular because it was a HUGE time commitment, which I didn't know going in, and I feel terrible about it. I tried to bow out gracefully, but they really wanted to keep me and tried to make it work...which meant I had to forcefully say no, which I hate! I don't even know if I can be a full-time student next semester...just thinking about med school gives me a panic attack right now...because I can't even handle an extra-curricular! Ugh. It is hard to balance everything is one of those times.